A global database of rural electrification

  • This project provides new data on global progress in household electrification going back to 1960 for many countries. The data set contains electrification rates for rural, urban, and all households, covers 124 developing countries, and includes 1,035 observations.
  • To the researchers’ knowledge, this is the most comprehensive data set on the world’s progress toward universal electrification, and the entire data set is freely available for non-commercial use.
  • The study finds evidence of rapid progress in total and rural electrification globally. Estimates suggest that past numbers, including the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework (GTF), have significantly underestimated progress in electrification over the past decades. 

  • The data also confirms the robust link between electrification rates and per capita income. 

The primary goal of this research project is to describe and explain variation in the success of rural electrification across developing countries. We collect, validate, and analyse cross-national, time-series data on progress in rural electrification for developing countries going back to 1960 for many countries. In addition to collecting data on this outcome variable, we compile data on the existence and design of rural electrification programmes, policies, and agencies.

We find evidence of rapid progress in total and rural electrification across the world. Our estimates suggest that past numbers, such as the GTF estimates, have substantially underestimated progress in electrification over the past decades. Even sub-Saharan Africa, where electrification rates are usually much worse than any other region, performs better than previous estimates. These results show that the World Bank’s interpolation approach understates nation-level progress in household electrification.

We also confirm the robust link between electrification rates and per capita income, and show that high population densities and urbanisation go a long way toward explaining why some countries have achieved high electrification rates even under low incomes per capita. In contrast, democratic political institutions and natural resource rents do not explain overperformance in progress toward universal electrification.

Our data will help scholars and practitioners evaluate whether utility-led programmes can achieve good performance despite the issue of incentives. At the same time, the data will reveal possible issues with the design of rural electrification agencies. For political economists, the analysis of rural electrification policies and outcomes can be used to test theories of government accountability, state capacity, pro-poor policy, rural-urban cleavages, and public good provision. Electricity access is increasingly used as an indicator for public good provision and economic development, but the poor quality of data has prevented such analysis outside limited contexts, such as India. Our data will also allow political economy analysis of rural electrification at the macro level.