The political economy of power outages in Ghana: New measures and analysis

Access to energy is crucial for economic growth. While global attention has focused heavily on increasing access, an under-recognised constraint in many countries is poor reliability of electricity supply. This project introduces a new measure of power supply reliability and outages based upon temporal variations in nighttime light output. This work builds upon ongoing research that has been used to create a Power Supply Irregularity (PSI) index. This new project extends the methodology to create a new PSI measure that takes advantage of vastly improved nighttime lights data being collected by the newer Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

In addition to the construction of new measures of supply reliability, the project will examine the political economy of outage patterns in Ghana, a competitive electoral democracy in the midst of a severe energy crisis. Our early research shows substantial differences in the frequency of power outages across Ghana’s regions. Importantly, these patterns have evolved over time and are now more extreme than ever with some areas experiencing far more outages while others now experience far fewer outages. These patterns suggest a political economy explanation, since technical or commercial factors alone would not predict such change over time. Drawing on detailed electoral data, the project will examine how prior election results have shaped the political pressure applied on Ghana’s state utilities to deliver electricity. We will also examine how Ghana’s energy crisis is related to vote choice in the December 2016 election.

Main research aims:

  1. Develop and refine a new measure of power outages using VIIRS data
  2. Quantify variations in outages across space and time in Ghana
  3. Explain political sources of variations and their electoral impacts