In this paper, we discuss what we can learn from the past decade of microeconomic research on the impacts of household electrification, with the goal of highlighting how future initiatives can be better designed. We begin with an overview of how household electrification has traditionally been captured in official statistics and then turn to some of the historical electrification programs from around the world, paying special attention to those that are most closely related to the settings that have been studied over the past decade or so. Our main point is that providing poor households with access to electricity alone is not enough to improve economic and noneconomic outcomes in a meaningful way. The literature documents large gains from electrification in a number of settings, but in many cases, we cannot rule out the possibility that other factors—either correlated with or visibly part of the electrification efforts—are driving economic outcomes. Universal energy access is arguably an important goal for global equity considerations. But large-scale contemporary initiatives to expand residential access to electricity may not produce meaningful economic impacts unless they are combined with complementary programs that will make electrical appliances more accessible, or they are targeted towards regions that already benefit from complementary factors.

Supplementary Materials and Data