A Randomized Field Experiment in Rural Kenya
Access to electricity is considered both an outcome and a driver of development. A number of studies demonstrate that electrification is linked to higher income, higher female employment, more study time and better educational outcomes for children, better health, and other development improvements. Despite these benefits, the vast majority of rural sub-Saharan Africans lack access to electricity. Expanding the electricity grid is expensive and electric utilities and governments have been unable to extend the grid to rural areas in a reliable way. In Kenya over 90% of households in rural areas are still not connected. These households typically rely on kerosene lanterns for lighting, which have high operational costs, low-quality light, and possibly adverse health and environmental effects.
Solar-powered electricity has recently become a popular alternative solution to low levels of electricity access. Prices for solar technology have dropped dramatically and solar has the potential to become a more affordable, better quality, and less polluting alternative to kerosene. Solar-powered lights have therefore attracted the attention of governments, investors and international donors. Despite these high hopes, there is still little empirical evidence on the (constraints of) adoption and the impact on households’ welfare of these novel technologies. We are conducting a randomized field experiment in Western Kenya in order to help close this knowledge gap. In addition to conventional survey data, we use novel sensor technology developed by the ETH spinoff, Bonsai Systems, to obtain more accurate measures of solar and kerosene lighting use.