Field Experiments to Measure the Impact of Solar Lights at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Serguei Netessine, Operations, Information and Decisions, The Wharton School, and Bhavani Uppari, Singapore Management University

Abstract: One tenth of humankind still does not have access to electricity (IEA 2020). The problem is significantly more severe in Africa, wherein half of the continent is unelectrified. Currently, the predominant sources of lighting for poor households are either flame-based solutions (e.g., kerosene, candles) or battery-based solutions (e.g., flashlights), mainly because they are easily accessible in local retail stores. However, these solutions are expensive to consumers in the long run and pose a threat to health and the environment. Providing access to cleaner and cheaper lighting solutions is necessary to lift people out of poverty. The magnitude of the economic, health, and educational impacts created by these lighting solutions as we move up the energy ladder, however, is not clear. Different quality levels result in different usage patterns, which in turn result in different levels of impact. Although it is expected that higher quality levels are likely to result in higher levels of impact, we must note that higher quality technologies come at a higher price which prohibits their penetration in the market; it is also not known if the corresponding impact generated justifies the higher price borne either by the consumers or by the subsidizing parties. As part of this project, we aim to quantify the relationships between the quality of a lighting system, the resultant usage of that system, and the rate at which it generates impact in health and education. Our work will be of relevance to governments, donors, firms, consumers, and academics.