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Harnessing the power of data to end energy poverty


2 billion people are still living without access to reliable, affordable electricity, and nearly half of them do not have access to electricity at all. The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to ending energy poverty and improving livelihoods by leveraging breakthroughs in data science and decentralized energy so that no one is left in the dark or locked out of the life-changing opportunities electricity access affords.

Tools that allow us to understand and predict electricity consumption in emerging markets can unlock the full potential of energy access. With better consumption data, electricity system planners can identify and roll-out the most appropriate energy solutions – through grid expansion or decentralized solutions – to more quickly and cost-effectively meet the needs of those living without electricity.

Together with UMass Amherst, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University and Colorado School of Mines, we are committed to building the data tools of the future that can help end energy poverty today.

The Electricity Growth and Use In Developing Economies (e-GUIDE) Initiative, an effort to apply data science to electricity demand prediction in energy-poor emerging economies, will partner with electricity service providers across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to enhance the data available for planning and operating their systems.

Part of the work of lead researcher Dr. Jay Taneja of UMass Amherst’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering shows how electrification can be improved by considering cheaper options that still meet the needs of low consumers and that this would contribute to the sustainability of utilities.

In the graph below we can see the energy consumption of new electricity customers falling behind more mature customers. While there is strong initial growth at the time of a new customer’s connection, new customer’s levels of peak energy consumption are much lower and are arrived at sooner. This decline in the revenues generated by new customers would pose serious implications for utilities, and the ability to predict future demand is essential for electricity planning efforts and for building sustainable business models.

These kinds of data insights will help utilities and off-grid companies and the public and private sectors collaborate on the integrated electrification strategies we need to achieve universal electricity access and end energy poverty.

If You Build It, Will They Consume?

Rural electricity customers in Kenya reach peak energy consumption roughly 10 months after connection and customers added later consume less energy. To effectively plan energy systems, we need to understand customer demand.

Credit: Simone Fobi, Varun Deshpande, Samson Ondiek, Vijay Modi, and Jay Taneja. “A Longitudinal Study of Electricity Consumption Growth in Kenya.” Energy Policy, 2018.

But is there a correlation between improvements in energy access and improvements of people’s livelihoods? Yes, absolutely.

No Rich Country Is Energy Poor

There is no pathway out of poverty without access to reliable and affordable electricity.

Credit: Energy consumption, income, and population data from World Bank. Bubble size indicates population. Variables are log scale.

Find out more about the work the e-GUIDE team is doing to help provide universal access to affordable, reliable electricity:

Learn More About e-GUIDE


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