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How does greater electricity consumption affect poverty?

Electricity consumption can affect poverty in many ways.
  • It can raise incomes by liberating time for paid employment, making enterprises more productive.
  • It enables new enterprises to be created.
  • For non-income effects, education may improve as lighting enables studying at home, as well as improving the school environment.
  • Positive health effects may result from better food storage and less indoor air pollution.
  • Outside the home, electricity facilitates sterilization, water purification and supply, sanitation, and the refrigeration of essential medicines.
  • Access to electricity may also increase the willingness of educated workers (e.g. teachers and doctors) to live in rural areas.
  • Positive gender impacts may result from better access to information and less time spent on non-paid work.
  • Increased entertainment and information via television, radio and mobile phones are also likely to improve opportunities and quality of life.
Measuring these impacts has proved extremely challenging. Benefits tend to be difficult to quantify as they are often indirect, and can be distorted by the tendency to increase access to areas that already have relatively good prospects. Many effects can only be seen after long periods, but as time passes they become more difficult to attribute to electricity. Impact studies need to be very carefully designed to avoid these problems to ensure that we understand that programmes are designed to maximise poverty impacts.

Image credits: Mugley / Flickr

The Role of Rural Electrification in Development
E. Cecelski; S. Glatt / Resources for the Future 1982
This paper from 1982 provides an early discussion on the relevance of electrification in rural development. It addresses the important question of whether rural electrification in developed countries can be replicated in developing re...
The Effects of Rural Electrification on Employment: New Evidence from South Africa
T. Dinkelman / Population Studies Center, University of Michigan 2008
In this paper, the author uses experience of post-apartheid electrification roll-out in rural South Africa to measure the direct effects of public infrastructure on employment in rural labour markets. Using data from the rural KwaZulu...
Impact Analysis of Rural Electrification Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa
T. Bernard / World Bank Research Observer 2010
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in infrastructure development in Sub-Saharan Africa. This article reviews trends in rural electrification over the past 30 years and explores the unstable levels of support available. ...
Rural Electrification and Rural Development
P. Cook / Springer 2013
This is the second chapter of the book Rural Electrification Through Decentralised Off-grid Systems in Developing Countries. Recent interest in rural electrification has emphasised the importance of linking its development with produc...