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Ending rural development vulnerability: Employing a subsistence perspective to address the energy needs of remote communities in western China

  • Year: 2010
  • Author: Zhang, Xilin
  • Journal Name: ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
  • Publisher: University of Delaware
  • Published Location: United States -- Delaware
  • ISBN: 9781124241555
  • Country: China

For the majority of people in rural communities of developing countries, reliable and sustainable energy services are not only desirable but also essential for development and livelihood improvement. In China, despite many efforts implemented in remote areas by the government and international agencies to improve livelihood conditions, the vulnerability of these communities persists because the energy and development in these areas continue to experience pressing issues. Addressing the vulnerability and meeting future energy demand of remote rural communities requires looking at energy and development from a different perspective.

The dissertation analyzes development interventions, including the inherent flaws of conventional energy-development model and the limitations of its sustainable remedy. It then revisits the linkage between energy services and development in remote rural contexts from the subsistence perspective, and develops a "subsistence energy discourse" for rural society. In order to understand how the subsistence energy discourse can help shape a genuine development agenda, socioeconomic assessment of renewable energy projects implemented in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang of western China was conducted. It was found that renewable energy options, as emerging subsistence energy discourse, improved the livelihood of remote rural communities and empowered them in a fundamental way. A crucial feature of the renewable energy projects that contributed in this regard was that the renewable energy technologies could fit local circumstances well and be combined with indigenous knowledge.

Further, several important issues, including energy demand beyond basic livelihoods needs and income generation and economic development of remote communities, highlight the continuous implementation of the subsistence energy regime and transformation of the economic development model. For livelihood-centered economic development, remote areas need to build decentralized and locally-adapted production and business around renewable energy service provision, while changing the existing development framework in urban areas which depends on the conventional energy prescription.

Finally, the dissertation offers overarching policy strategies for employing the subsistence energy and development framework to meet future energy demands and achieve well-being of remote rural communities. This dissertation hopes to be a timely discussion on a topic of importance to remote rural societies that points out the need for adjustment of the policy framework of rural energy and development, not only in China, but also to guide similar considerations in other parts of the developing world. It is also expected to contribute by assisting government and international agencies make future decisions to steer rural society toward energy, ecological, societal, and lifestyle sustainability.

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