EEG investigates impact of Covid-19 on energy in developing countries
The Energy and Economic Growth (EEG) applied research programme, funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), has commissioned two research projects on Covid-19 and energy in developing countries. One is assessing whether access to reliable power is improving health and economic resilience, and the other is analysing the impact of lockdown restrictions on face-to-face utility revenue collection models and the role that modern metering systems and infrastructure upgrades can play.
EEG produces research on the links between energy and economic growth, working closely with policy makers to fill knowledge gaps that will help bring the benefits of modern energy services to people living in low-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. With Covid-19 negatively affecting energy sectors in developing countries, and further highlighting that reliable electricity plays an indispensable role in our lives, EEG has funded two main research projects, as well as a range of research papers, on the relationship between the pandemic and energy.
One of the projects, led by Yale University in the US and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, is investigating whether electricity access can improve Sierra Leone's economic and health resilience to the Covid-19 crisis. While many studies have focused on how improved access to reliable electricity impacts people’s livelihoods, few have looked at how it can increase resilience and help populations cope with large health and economic shocks.
The research team is assessing whether people in recently electrified rural communities are better able to cope with the pandemic and the associated lockdowns compared to those without access to reliable electricity. The research will be completed within the next few months, but early health data suggests that electrification increases clinic quality and thus use, and that fewer people skip health visits if their community health clinic is electrified.
Led by the US’ Duke University, the second project aims to understand the role that metering and infrastructure improvements can play in power system resilience. Prior to Covid-19, some utilities in developing countries implemented measures to increase cost recovery, and, in turn, improve the quality of electricity services. They included installing modern metering systems to help mitigate the problems of low payment and theft, and upgrading old infrastructure with aerial bundled cables to help prevent illegal connections.
Lockdowns have restricted the movement of billions of people, affecting utilities’ face-to-face revenue collection models, making these interventions potentially more important, with greater benefits. Yet there is currently no evidence on their effectiveness. The research team will explore how the pandemic has affected the efficacy and resilience of metering systems and infrastructure upgrades in reducing loss and/or increasing cost recovery in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.
Simon Trace, EEG’s programme director, said: “A country’s resilience to Covid-19 will, in part, be underpinned by whether its power supplies are sufficient and reliable enough to provide adequate healthcare, deliver other critical services and support the economy. It is likely the pandemic will reveal new issues to consider in future approaches to energy system planning, operation and maintenance. We hope our new research projects will inform decision-making that can lead to reduced energy poverty and increased resilience.”
In addition, EEG has funded research papers on:
How the pandemic has interrupted the development pathway for Africa’s electricity sector
The impact of Covid-19 on last-mile distributors of off-grid solar products
The effect of Covid-19 on foreign energy investment and finance in Sub-Saharan Africa
Key learnings from how operation of the regional electricity grid across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal has been maintained during lockdowns and drops in demand, and on the financial impacts on the main utility in Uganda
The impact of the pandemic on oil and gas sector and decarbonisation in low- and middle-income countries
Using data on electricity generation/consumption and pollution to predict economic impacts of Covid-19 in India
An online workshop (and subsequent paper) investigating the impacts and coping mechanisms for Covid-19 in Malawi’s energy sector was also commissioned. An existing EEG project on electricity reliability has also been extended, enabling the University of California, Berkeley research team to monitor the impact of electricity subsidies on people and businesses receiving them (and their response to the Covid-19 crisis). Issues related to infrastructure stress and increased power outages will also be investigated.
EEG aims to deliver research that can encourage investment in more sustainable, efficient, reliable and fair energy systems. Over 25 research projects have been funded, with a focus on efficient and productive use, reliability, renewable energy and grid access. To find out more, please visit https://energyeconomicgrowth.org/.