Although electricity access has increased during the 21st century, poor electricity service quality remains a persistent problem in many developing countries. Researchers in this study analyze the effects of improved electrical quality in the Kyrgyz Republic, a lower-middle-income country in Central Asia.
First, they randomly assigned households to receive improved electricity service through the installation of two-way, automated smart meters, followed by a self-reported survey on electricity service quality, household appliances, and energy efficiency investments, plus utility data on monthly household billed electricity consumption. This data was complemented by utility data on monthly household billed electricity consumption.
Results show that the billed electricity consumption of treated households increased during peak demand months (November to March), indicating higher use of electricity. This increase was significantly greater for renters than homeowners, suggesting that different households may respond differently depending on the incentives. The study also found evidence of increased ownership of electric heaters and energy efficiency improvements among treated households, particularly renters. These findings indicate that improved electricity service quality led to greater use of existing appliances and investments in new ones.
The paper suggests that improvements in electricity quality (i.e., fewer voltage fluctuations and more hours per day of full-service provision) result in greater residential consumption of electricity services, which not only improves household well-being but also lowers the impact on the environment. These findings have important implications for international development, energy policy, and the pathway to a net-zero economy.
Methods and Results
This project is the first randomized experiment to measure the effects of variation in electricity service quality. In collaboration with an electric utility company, 20 neighborhoods within one city were selected. Each neighborhood received electricity services via a transformer, the component in the distribution system that converts high-voltage electricity to usable, low-voltage electricity for household use (Glover et al., 2011). These 20 transformers, and the approximately 1,600 households they serve, were randomly assigned to receive improved meters (the treatment group) or the control group. These meters replaced the houses’ old meters and could provide two-way communication with the utility, send alerts of poor service quality events, or automatically shutdown household connections when voltage fluctuates. The control houses, 846 in total, retained their old meters. Additional smart meters were installed at all transformers to provide objective outcome measures for both the treatment and control groups that are separate and distinct from the house-level intervention. Electricity prices remained the same across both groups during the study period.
- Treated households’ monthly billed electricity consumption increased significantly, by 50.6 kWh per month during peak demand months (November to March), when many households use electric heaters.
- Compared to the baseline control group mean of 806.2 kWh per month, this increase is technically and statistically significant.
- Billed electricity consumption increased almost five times more among renters than homeowners.
- Billed electricity consumption did not significantly change during off-peak months (April to October)
This paper contributes to research on both the impacts of residential energy efficiency, as well as the drivers of energy efficiency investments in developing countries. It separates incidences of outages from voltage fluctuations, adds nuance to the discussion of electricity service quality, and increases attention to voltage fluctuations, which are an understudied yet pervasive problem. These findings support the claim that to maximize the benefits of electrification, attention must be paid to the quality of electricity services, not merely access to electrical connections.
Robyn Meeks (Duke University), Arstan Omuraliev (Kyrgyz State Technical University), Ruslan Isaev (Kyrgyz State Technical University), and Zhenxuan Wang (Duke University)
Climate & Sustainability, Energy, Governance, Economic Development, Rural, Wealth Measures