The growth and development of solar energy, which is so important in the current global context, is determined by political economic factors, and in turn, has varied implications for energy justice. India’s western region presents a complex context within which to examine why these trajectories unfold in particular ways and to what end. This article first situates India’s renewable energy policy within the dynamics of its federal politics. It then focusses on the trajectory of renewable energy development in two Western Indian states, Rajasthan and Gujarat, highlighting how regional particularities and path dependence have shaped the emergence of solar energy, often in ways that run counter to both expected and hoped for results. The idea of energy justice is subsequently introduced as a way to evaluate whether solar energy infrastructural growth in its present form is best serving the multi-pronged needs of climate justice, economic development, and social equity. By combining a political economy of renewable energy that accounts for the political and institutional factors conditioning the growth of solar capacity with the normative arguments embedded in the energy justice literature, this study contributes to a growing understanding of the intersection of solar power and development.

This article appears in Energy Research & Social Science