Systematic Review on the Impact of Access to Electricity on Household Welfare

Evaluation Document | 21 August 2020

This systematic review report aims to appraise and synthesize available, high-quality evidence on the effectiveness of electricity interventions on socioeconomic outcomes in low- and middle- income countries.

In 2015, the United Nations formalized electricity provision as an internationally recognized development objective through the creation of Sustainable Development Goal 7, which sought to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Developing countries have made major advances in providing electricity access in recent years. From 2000 to 2017, the proportion of the global population with electricity access increased from 78% to 89%.

While it is widely accepted that increased access to electricity has benefited households, especially low and medium-income ones, a growing body of impact studies has shown that access to electricity programs in developing countries has brought mixed effects. Several challenges still prevent universal access to electricity: (i) high investment and operation costs, (ii) limited demand given market conditions, (iii) technical implementation and maintenance issues, and (iv) regulatory and political issues. Even with expanded access, other factors like quality of connection and equity may have limited the development impacts. Important evidence gaps remain for future studies to address. Understanding what works and doesn’t is important for policy planning and decision making. 

The purpose of this systematic review report is to appraise and synthesize available, high-quality evidence on the effectiveness of electricity interventions on socioeconomic outcomes in low- and middle- income countries. This systematic review follows scientifically recognized review methods and has been peer reviewed and quality assured according to internationally accepted standards. The Independent Evaluation Department (IED) jointly prepared this systematic review with the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), a leading institution in rigorous and innovative review methodologies. This systematic review is a background paper to IED evaluation on ADB’s 2009 Energy Policy and Program, 2009-2018.

The systematic review finds that on average electrification interventions have small positive effects on a range of education, socioeconomic welfare, health, and environmental outcomes. These effects were associated with considerable heterogeneity across the studies, which highlights the need to have more impact evaluation studies of electricity projects, especially those looking at the effects on household welfare and the transmission mechanisms for these effects. 

IED and 3ie believe that understanding and assessing the context-specific determinants of uptake and use of electricity infrastructure is key for yielding positive changes in social outcomes. Therefore, we hope to see more research in this area to provide better and more evidence-based policy decisions.