It is generally recognised that electricity can have positive effects on rural communities. Access to clean, affordable, and reliable electricity is often seen as one of the key drivers for attaining higher levels of growth and human development, highlighted by United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7.

However, few published studies measure or quantify the impact of rural electrification. There are also deeper questions to be asked regarding the impact of electrifying rural communities. For example, if higher impact is found in certain areas or contexts, what caused it and how can that be replicated? Is there a way to track the impacts of electrification over time in order to inform better policy, business models or technical design? Are there any unintended negative effects of electrification that should be avoided?

The Energy for Development team has been working in this area to shed light on these questions and the links below highlight some of the recent outputs.

Social impacts of mini-grids: A literature review

The level of investment in mini-grids is limited by a lack of understanding of their social impacts. Little published data exists on the issue, which presents a need for better-integrated monitoring and evaluation methodologies. A recent paper written by the E4D team provides a literature review exploring the existing knowledgebase on the social impacts of mini-grids, what methodologies are used to evaluate them, and the extent to which social impact monitoring and evaluation is currently carried out. We found that although there is a general acceptance of the benefits of rural electrification through mini-grids, it is not often based on empirically measured evidence of mini-grid impact on the general wellbeing or social development of the communities they serve. Existing studies tend to focus more on measuring technical and economic performance of installed systems. We’ve provided recommendations for a best practice methodology for evaluating the social impact of mini-grids to gain valuable data to inform the sector.

The paper can be found here:

A toolkit for monitoring, evaluating and learning about the social impacts of mini-grids

Following the findings from the literature, the E4D team has developed a toolkit to provide guidelines and tools for monitoring and evaluating the social impacts of mini-grid projects. The toolkit is intended for mini-grid practitioners and academic researchers to better understand the purpose and contribution of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to learning about and informing adaptation of approach, programming, strategy, and future design of mini-grids, to ultimately improve the service to mini-grid customers. The intention is to enable improved, standardised and more streamlined data collection and analysis wherever mini-grids are in operation, facilitating better decision-making and reporting, more efficient grid operation and management, and ultimately increasing the quality of service offered to and benefits received by mini-grid customers.

The toolkit can be found here:

A longitudinal impact evaluation of rural electrification in Africa

Based on the progress outlined above, the E4D team, in partnership with Mzuzu University, Strathmore University and the Kigali Collaborative Research Centre, supported by Global Challenges Research Funding are carrying out a research project to develop a proposal for conducting a longitudinal impact evaluation of rural electrification in Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi and Tanzania. We are developing an evidence base, justification and proposal for a wider study to quantify the impacts of rural electrification at various scales to provide recommendations for improved policy, delivery models, and technical design. The longitudinal study will evaluate communities before and after electrification and follow their living standards and/or livelihoods for a number of years in order to determine how electricity impacts livelihoods whether positively or negatively.

More information about the study can be found here:

Part of the research is to gather information from experts to inform the study. If you have experience in rural electrification and would be interested in contributing to the research we would be extremely grateful if you could spare 5 minutes to fill out this online questionnaire which will inform our research strategy.