Electricity Does Not Change Poor Lives As Much As Was Thought

February 2019

The Economist

The Economist references a study that Faculty Affiliate Catherine Wolfram did on electrifying rural Kenya. Wolfram addresses the importance of aiding households by providing them connection to electricity grids for free or at various discounts, but questions whether its results are impactful enough to solve the long-term problem.

“[Compared to solar home system] A connection to the electricity grid is far more expensive. As a rule of thumb, it costs at least $1,000 in a rural area. Academics at the University of California, Berkeley, have tested Kenyan villagers’ willingness to pay. They offered a large subsidy, which brought the price of a connection down to $171. Only 24% of people plumped for it. If electricity and light truly transformed people’s lives, it might make sense to offer large subsidies for solar systems and grid connections or even to give them away. It might bring benefits that people could not have imagined. Or they might know about the benefits but be unable to afford the upfront cost. But there is little evidence of this.”

Photo: Mathieu Young, www.economist.com/international/2019/02/09/electricity-does-not-change-poor-lives-as-much-as-was-thought