Rural electrification with off-grid community microgrids: An impact evaluation in Uttar Pradesh, India

  • Randomised controlled trial measuring effect of installing solar microgrids in 81 villages in Uttar Pradesh who previously had no electricity and used kerosene lamps to light their homes.
  • Villagers spent considerably less money on buying kerosene after subscribing to the solar service.
  • However, researchers found no evidence of broader socio-economic impacts on household savings, expenditures, local business creation, how much time women spent on productive work, or children’s use of lighting to study.

Almost a quarter billion people in India alone and about another 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to electricity because of the high cost of extending the electricity grid to remote, rural places. However, with a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels, interest has grown in the use of off-grid solar power as an alternative, especially since solar power is cleaner than fossil fuels.

Researchers worked in partnership with an Indian solar service provider, Mera Gao Power (MGP), to conduct the first randomised controlled trial designed to measure the causal effects of installing solar microgrids in 81 non-electrified villages in Barabanki district of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Households in these villages previously had no electricity and used simple kerosene lamps to light their homes.

The team randomly assigned 81 small rural habitations into treatment and control groups. In the treatment groups, MGP approached villagers and offered to set up a solar microgrid if at least ten households within the village subscribed at the monthly per-household cost of 100 rupees (£1.21/$1.67). MGP made no intervention in the control group.

The solar microgrid offered a basic level of electricity access comprising high-quality domestic lighting (through two LED lights) and mobile charging. Information on fuel expenditures, lighting hours, quality of lighting and broader socio-economic effects was collected from 1,281 households surveyed on three occasions over a period of more than a year: prior to treatment, half a year after treatment, and one year after treatment.

Villagers spent considerably less money on buying kerosene for lighting their homes after subscribing to the MGP service: however, researchers also found no evidence of broader socio-economic impacts on household savings, expenditures, local business creation, how much time women spent on productive work, or children’s use of lighting to study.

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