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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Essays on Household Electrification in Developing Countries

  • Author(s): Barron, Manuel Fernando
  • Advisor(s): Zilberman, David
  • et al.

This dissertation studies issues on household electrification in developing countries, an issue of utmost importance in the fields of development and energy economics. Chapter 1 provides the first empirical evidence that household electrification leads to direct and substantial welfare improvements via reductions in indoor air pollution. In the setting of a recent electrification program in northern El Salvador, we exploit a unique dataset on minute-by-minute fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration within the framework of a clean experimental design. Two years after baseline, overnight PM2.5 concentration was on average 63% lower among households that were randomly encouraged to connect compared to those that were not. This change is driven by reductions in kerosene use and, as suggested by our conceptual framework, the effects are larger among heavier kerosene users. As a result, the incidence of acute respiratory infections among children under 6 fell by 35-45% among encouraged households. Estimates of exposure measures suggest large health gains for all household members, but these gains are unequally distributed by gender. In addition, we show that when the electrification rate among the non-encouraged group caught up with that of the encouraged group, the effects in the former group were similar to those in the latter.

Chapter 2 studies the effects of household electrification on time use, and explores the consequences of this resource reallocation. In particular we study the effects on investment in education and job choice. We find that electrification increases investment in education, by inducing school-age children to study more at home, which is reflected in improvements in a math skills index. Adult males reduce time allocated to leisure and independent farm work, while increasing time in other labor activities. This time reallocation is reflected in higher income. Electricity also leads to increased ownership of electronic appliances like TV sets, that improve leisure and access to information; as well as refrigerators, which improve nutrition through improved food storage and food safety, reinforcing the health gains from improved indoor air quality.

Chapter 3 studies the role that a cost-sharing scheme like the vouchers used in our experiment play in adoption of electric connections and the potential consequences on infrastructure financing. We draft a model showing the conditions under which sharing part of the connection costs would increase the electric utility's revenues, by accelerating the connection rate, thus increasing the flow of revenues earlier than otherwise. In our the case at hand, offering a low discount resulted more profitable than not sharing any connection costs, and also more profitable than offering high discounts.

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