Extending electricity to poor rural communities in India not reaping hoped-for economic impact

May 18, 2017 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from the U.S. and the U.K. has found that governmental initiatives to provide electricity to poor communities in India has not brought about the socioeconomic benefits that were predicted. In their paper published on the open access site Science Advances, the group describes a survey they carried out involving people living in non-electrified communities in India and a follow-up they conducted after some of those involved in the prior survey gained access to electricity.

One of the precepts of governmental planning for third-world countries is that if poor, remote communities are provided with basic amenities such as clean water and electricity, the standard of living in those areas will automatically rise. People living in such places, it is assumed, would take advantage of electric-powered activities to improve their lot, such as conducting business at night or studying for longer hours. But as the researchers with this new effort found, that might not be the case.

India is a developing country with a population of approximately 1.3 billion people. But despite efforts to expand the grid, approximately 300 million people still live without a reliable source of electricity. This means they must rely on kerosene lamps for light at night, and cannot use electrical appliances that make life easier. The government in India has acknowledged the problem and pledged to provide for such communities by investing heavily in local solar power electricity. Called India's Remote Village Electrification Program, the goal is to increase solar power production from 12.3 gigawatts to 100 gigawatts by 2022.

But will doing so provide the stimulus to lift people living in remote communities out of poverty? To find out, the researchers conducted a survey of approximately 1,300 households in 81 remote, non-electrified communities. A year later, they conducted another of the same people, and found that electrification rates had increased by 29 to 35 percent. But the responses of those who gained access to electricity indicated little to no economic gain. The only measurable change in the lives of the people was a reduction in the amount of kerosene they bought.

The researchers note that theirs was a limited-time study, and point out that it is possible that over longer time spans, economic growth might occur, but they also suggest that other measures besides access to might be needed to improve the lives of the poor living throughout the country.

Explore further: Off-grid power in remote areas will require special business model to succeed

More information: Michaël Aklin et al. Does basic energy access generate socioeconomic benefits? A field experiment with off-grid solar power in India, Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602153

This article assesses the socioeconomic effects of solar microgrids. The lack of access to electricity is a major obstacle to the socioeconomic development of more than a billion people. Off-grid solar technologies hold potential as an affordable and clean solution to satisfy basic electricity needs. We conducted a randomized field experiment in India to estimate the causal effect of off-grid solar power on electricity access and broader socioeconomic development of 1281 rural households. Within a year, electrification rates in the treatment group increased by 29 to 36 percentage points. Daily hours of access to electricity increased only by 0.99 to 1.42 hours, and the confidence intervals are wide. Kerosene expenditure on the black market decreased by 47 to 49 rupees per month. Despite these strong electrification and expenditure effects, we found no systematic evidence for changes in savings, spending, business creation, time spent working or studying, or other broader indicators of socioeconomic development.

Press release

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3.7 / 5 (3) May 18, 2017
we found no systematic evidence for changes in savings, spending, business creation, time spent working or studying, or other broader indicators of socioeconomic development.

That's because the solar microgrids simply don't provide them with enough energy to do much more than replace kerosene lamps.

The people still lead the same sort of existence as before, so they have no point to study or create businesses. What would they create business of? Their neck of the woods is still poor, there's nothng going on, and the off-grid systems are much too expensive to kickstart competitive production when the next village has proper infrastructure. It's simply a waste of resources.

Give them proper grid access, and it opens up the possibility for light industry, which enables someone to invest in the place, which creates jobs and a reason for the people to study and do the other things. The economy runs on energy.
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2017
To Eikkla: How do you know that off-grid solar does not provide enough power? The grid in India is fragile, especially in remote rural areas, and villages that have been electrified are not necessarily powered up much of the time. Those areas can have up to 15 hours of scheduled or unscheduled load-shedding at a time. One friend was in an electrified village in Karnataka that had no power for weeks at a stretch.
An off-grid solar solution can be more stable. In addition, solar technology is constantly upgrading and improving, so what you may have learned about solar capacity even recently, may not apply today.

Your claim, and similar anti-solar arguments, smell of fossil-fuel industry backlash.

As far as this report goes, I think it will take time to show socioeconomic benefits, they should return in 3, 5 and ten years to map longer-term effects.
5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2017
To Eikkla: How do you know that off-grid solar does not provide enough power?

By the fact that the off grid systems they're talking about are to a great extent actually just solar lanterns and cellphone chargers specifically designed simply to replace a kerosene lamp. The solar panels are 40-50 Watt units connected to a small lithium power bank or a car battery, sold on a subscription model, such as:


Using larger units is difficult, as the families simply cannot afford the amount of batteries needed to capture the energy from multi-kilowatt solar systems, without which they can't use any of the really useful appliances like AC units, fridges, washing machines, power tools...

There's a bit of a chicken-egg problem as without jobs and industry they don't have the money to buy the power systems to support jobs and industry.

5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2017
For example, a simple modern energy star refridgerator may use about 1.5 kWh of electricity a day. To account for a couple rainy days, you need to triple that amount to roughly 5 kWh. The cost of the lithium batteries, plus the cost of about 500W of panels, plus the cost of the charger/inverter, and labor come to something around $2,000 - $3,000 which is a massive investment for a family that only makes a few dollars a day.

They could be spending a decade saving up enough to buy such a system, which is why the electrification programs are concentrating on providing solar lanterns first, expecting to bootstrap the economy by the poor people being able to spend more time working and studying.

But the idea falls on its face, because there's not a lot more the poor can do in their situation that they aren't already doing. If someone has more time to read and educate themselves for a proper job, that job won't be found anywhere near, so they simply move out.
5 / 5 (2) May 19, 2017
Another reference:


SECI is implementing mini/micro grid projects (consisting of 5 kW to 25 kW capacity) through Solar PV, covering areas which are not connected to the grid through CSR support from PSUs. Tenders have been called for capacity of 101 kWp for 3 villages in Haryana.

These are seriously small systems. 25 kW of power compares to having one small diesel tractor in a village. Though that is peak capacity, and the actual average power availability throughout the year is about a tenth of that, which would put it on par with a lawn mower as far as raw productive power goes.

That's why these off-grid solar systems are almost irrelevant for providing the economic boost for development. They just cost a lot of (government subsidized) money.
not rated yet May 20, 2017
Here's an industrially relevant off-grid solution:


The German manufacturer Tesvolt (link is external) has been awarded the contract for the world's largest off-grid storage system. The company will supply a 2.68-MWh lithium storage system to Rwanda. In case of power failure, the system will supply a stand-alone grid with energy.

The Tesvolt storage system will supplement a 3.3-MW solar power plant that is being built with storage from the international project developer IdeemaSun. The off-grid solution will supply emergency power to water pumps for an agricultural project in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.

"In Rwanda, there are power outages three or four times a day for approximately 5 to 45 minutes.

In the west, households account for roughly 1/5th of energy consumption - commerce and industry takes 4/5ths. Even a small town of a couple thousand people needs megawatts of power.
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2017
So funny. They want to replace kerosene lamps, which run at night after the sun goes down. So, they install solar panels!! Sorry guys, just doesn't work.

2.3 / 5 (3) May 21, 2017
Electricity? What they need is clean water and functioning sewer systems. They're poor because they're chronically overcrowded. And as we all know this is the fault of religion.

Instead of condoms Bart would send them bibles and tell them if they pray hard enough Jesus will fix everything.

But if he doesn't (he never does) it's their fault because they're not praying hard enough. And also because there are still a few Muslims left in their neighborhood.

A vicious cycle.
not rated yet May 21, 2017
Need refrigerator with Danfloss compressor. Not power monster refrigerator. Also wrap refrigerator with insulation for much more efficiency. Refrigerator can then use direct 12VDC power fed through 12V battery, where battery simply dissipates extra voltage and smooths cloud transitions

As usual Eikka makes every fucking simple thing seem impossible, with is the diametric opposite of genius
not rated yet May 21, 2017
Electricity? What they need is clean water and functioning sewer systems. They're poor because they're chronically overcrowded. And as we all know this is the fault of religion.

Sewer is for wasteful Western pigs. Purporting 18th century technology for solutions only underlines sick, brainwashed attitude toward nature. Seriously no advancement for waste in 200 years? Using fresh water to transport waste is epitome of stupid. Instead compost the solids, and dilute the urine 3:1 for potent crop fertilizer. Separate the carbon from the nitrogen
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2017
Or just shit in the street and wait until it rains.

What good is compost if there's no room to plant crops?

Those societies are classically Malthusian. Except that malthus didn't appreciate the power of religion to maximize growth.
not rated yet May 31, 2017
As usual Eikka makes every fucking simple thing seem impossible, with is the diametric opposite of genius

Of course you can use more modern electronics that waste less energy, but it all comes down to cost again - what do you expect a poor family to buy, when they're making $5 a day? Even if it saves half the power, it's still 4/5ths beyond their capacity to actually buy and supply it with electricity.

A lamp and a phone charger is pretty much what they can afford, and what is feasible to power with a small solar panel. Going beyond that to the actually useful stuff is a leap of at least 100 times more energy, from 4-5 Wh a day to at least 500 Wh a day just to power a single appliance.

For commercial or industrial capacity, you start at 1,000 times the energy. It's not a matter of being defeatist, but a simply the impossibility of doing something with next to nothing. Society doesn't run on optimism alone.

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