New frontier in tackling global poverty

With electricity comes prosperity, right?

The answer might seem obvious — that electricity is key to economic growth and other societal benefits like better health. But in the world’s most impoverished regions, where resources to improve livelihoods are scarce, it’s not clear how much better off people are when they have access to electrical power.

Now, however, a new Stanford study published Nov. 16 in the journal Nature uncovers some of the strongest and most direct evidence yet of the extent to which electrification fuels economic growth in the developing world. The research is the first to rely on a pioneering technique recently developed at Stanford that combines satellite imagery and artificial intelligence (AI) to measure and study poverty in ways that were not previously possible.

The study — co-authored by Marshall Burke, an associate professor at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainabilityand a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR); Nathan Ratledge, a PhD student in environment and resources at the Doerr School; and others — examined the economic impacts of Uganda’s expanding electricity grid.

The researchers found that communities given access to electricity experienced improvements in their economic livelihoods roughly double that of regions without power. They measure livelihood changes based on increases they identify in home construction, appliances, and other tangible assets suggestive of economic wealth.

“We provide first-of-its-kind causal evidence of how electricity access impacts economic well-being at scale across an entire country in Africa,” said Ratledge, the study’s lead author.

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