Over the coming decades, the most rapid growth—in population, economic activity, and energy demand—is expected to come from developing countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the IEA forecasts rapid expansion of the energy sector by 2040, as the economy quadruples and the population nearly doubles (to 1.8 billion). At the same time, rising fossil fuel use and deforestation in nations such as China, India, and Brazil is driving up greenhouse gas emissions, threatening human and environmental health globally, and contributing to crop failure, food insecurity, and community displacement.
While there are many promising ways to address these challenges, little evidence exists to guide policymakers in the design and implementation of cost-effective solutions. Moving forward, it is critical that energy investment, policy and regulatory decisions are made with a nuanced understanding of the complex barriers and tradeoffs involved in sustainably meeting future demand for food and energy—while minimizing environmental costs.
Applied Research Program on Energy and Economic Growth (EEG)
At the heart of CEGA’s work in energy and environment is an applied research program on Energy and Economic Growth (EEG).
Over the course of five years, EEG will commission rigorous research exploring how investments in large-scale energy systems—including energy supply, regulation, efficiency, and clean energy technology—contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth in low-income countries. Through an agenda-setting exercise in the first year, followed by a series of rigorous impact evaluations, the program will generate a body of evidence specifically geared to meet the needs of decision makers and enable the development of large-scale energy systems that support sustainable, inclusive growth in low income countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
EEG is led by Oxford Policy Management in partnership with the Center for Effective Global Action and the Energy Institute @ Haas at the University of California, Berkeley. The programme is funded by the UK Government, through UK Aid. The applied research programme is led by CEGA affiliates Catherine Wolfram (Research Director) and Paul Gertler (Deputy Research Director) in collaboration with a network of world-class academics from institutions in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America and Europe.
In addition to our work in energy, CEGA faculty contribute to a growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of measures designed to curb indoor and outdoor air pollution (including clean cookstoves and driving restrictions) and increase the resilience of smallholder farmers in the face of changing climatic conditions (including new stress-resistant crop varieties and weather-indexed crop insurance). Researchers are increasingly taking advantage of innovative measurement tools such as satellite data, “smart” meters, and mobile data collection platforms to reliably capture trends and outcomes in the environment.
In partnership with the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) in Kenya, researchers are studying the demand for and impacts of electrification in a large-scale, randomized controlled trial. By offering subsidies of varying amounts to “under grid” households—those located in close proximity to the national grid—the team is measuring people’s willingness to pay for power, and tracking what happens after they connect. Over time, the experimental design will allow the team to credibly measure the impacts of electrification on a range of social and economic outcomes, including time use, income generation, and children’s education.
In partnership with the International Rice Research Institute, CEGA researchers are investigating the benefits of drought- and flood-tolerant rice varieties in high-risk regions of India. They find that flood-resistant seeds create incentives for farmers to use fertilizer and other beneficial technologies, by protecting them from weather risk. The benefits of this intervention are greatest for the most marginalized populations, making it even more “pro-poor” than traditional insurance products.
How energy efficient was the Mexican government’s Cash for Coolers (C4C) appliance replacement program? Researchers monitored electricity usage by consumers who participated in the program and received subsidies to upgrade to more energy-efficient refrigerators and air conditioners. The study finds that the energy-saving effects of the program were modest, most likely due to the “rebound” effect: appliances cost less to run, so households tend to use them more often.
Photo: Serengeti, Tanzania; Credit: Cameron Breslin