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Core Project: GridWatch

Measuring electricity reliability with GridWatch sensors in West Africa to inform energy decisions.

Many studies on the microeconomics of electrification in developing countries focus primarily on estimating the impacts of providing rural households and communities with access to electricity for the first time. In urban areas, however, many households and businesses are already connected to the grid. In these settings, the primary issue is reliability rather than the lack of access to electricity. Yet few studies analyse the causes and consequences of outages, or the ways in which policymakers can address them.

Studies on the macroeconomic impacts of outages suggest that the costs may be large, in the range of 2-3 per cent reduction in long run GDP per capita. In Ghana, for example, the 2013 World Bank Enterprise Surveys found that 61.2 per cent of businesses see electricity reliability as a major constraint.

In order for EEG to explore both how unreliable electricity systems affect productivity, and solutions to improving reliability, a research project has been proposed to:

  1. Develop, deploy and rigorously test a suite of low-cost, remote sensing devices collectively called GridWatch.

  2. Work with regional policymakers to understand how information provided by a system like GridWatch could best be used to improve energy decisions.

  3. Use the data collected by GridWatch to measure the economic costs of unreliable electricity systems.

Unlike existing technologies, GridWatch automatically measures and centrally collects data on grid reliability and power outages, publicly and independently of utility reports. Recent pilots of the technology in Kenya and Tanzania suggest that GridWatch – and future iterations of the technology – have the potential to help governments and utilities make far more informed investment decisions.

The first part of the proposed project will take place in Ghana, because unlike many countries in West Africa, it has already begun to explore options for improving reliability. However, the lessons from the project will be broadly applicable. As part of this project, researchers will work with policymakers in three low-income countries in West Africa to understand their challenges and opportunities around grid reliability.

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Catherine Wolfram on why connecting people to the grid is only the first challenge.

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Catherine Wolfram

Principal Investigator