Arising Inequalities through Energy Access

From energypedia


Access to electricity has a great impact on various areas of everyday life such as education, health and a household’s economic situation. These influences can go as far as causing societal change. However, in some electrified communities not all households are connected to electricity. This article examines the impacts of electricity access and how they may lead to inequalities between electrified and non-electrified households within a community. However, very few information is available concerning inequalities through energy access and it was concluded that further research is urgently necessary.

Energy Access Brings Inequality

Many households connect to the grid once it becomes available. However, often the poor of a community are not able to afford the initial connection costs and remain without electricity (Standal, 2008; World Bank, 2008).[1][2]

Figure 1. Growth of electrification rate over time after grid connection in Lao PDR and Philippines (World Bank, 2008).

The graphs show the percentages of all connected households and the percentage of poor electrified households in Lao PDR and Philippines in the years since grid connection. In Lao PDR, 54% of all households connect in the first year, whereas only around 35% of poor households connect to the grid in the first 12 months. A similar outcome can be seen in the Philippines, however in the long run, the percentage of poor households getting connected does not increase in the same pace as the percentage of all household connections (World Bank, 2008).[2] This shows that even over time a higher percentage of the poorer households still remains without access to the basic need electricity in some countries. Therefore, the question arises what kind of inequalities this situation of electrified and non-electrified households within a community causes.

Inequalities on Household Level

 Household Income & Energy Expenditures

The amount of time spent on productive activities increases in households with electricity (Khandker et al., 2012).[3] Increased productive activities generate allowing the household to improve its economic status. The households not able to afford connection to electricity miss out on this opportunity.

Fuel savings from 20 USD up to 46 USD can be achieved using energy efficient cookstoves. Also, a positive correlation has been observed between solar electricity and the decrease of expenditures for traditional lighting fuels (IOB, 2013).[4]

Nonetheless, merely being connected does not automatically bring benefits. It also depends on the quality of the connection if electrified households really benefit from energy access as opposed to households without. As for rural electrified communities observed in South Africa, merely 6% of the surveyed households had a stable 24-hour electricity supply and 25% only had 12 hours or less per day (Rathi and Vermaak, 2018).[5] Further, a study carried out in India Khandker et al. (Khandker et al., 2012)[3] revealed that in areas with unreliable electricity service households connected to electricity almost have similar kerosene expenses for lighting as non-electrified households. On the other hand, poorer households with electricity access might even have higher costs per kilowatt hour depending on the tariffdesign. For example, tariff structures with a minimum monthly payment can lead to this unjust situation (World Bank, 2008).[2]

Households without access to electricity have fewer possibilities to increase their income, however it is unclear if they have lower energy expenses compared to household with access to electricity (depending on the reliability).


Electricity can potentially take the place of traditional cooking fuels, which may improve the air quality and thus, the household’s environment (Fujii et al., 2018).[6] Regarding children’s nutritional status, an improvement following electricity access has been observed. One reason for this could be the additional time and more flexible time use that electrified households have at hand for child care as well as improved indoor air quality (Fujii and Shonchoy, 2017).[7] Secondly, fuel collection to the previous extent is not needed anymore in electrified households. Women who are in general responsible for this household chore, are not burdened with it anymore, thus lessening the burden on the mother’s body which in turn may lead to an improved nutritional status of her children (Fujii et al., 2018).[6] Such betterments to the living environment of a household and the family’s health have far-reaching effects.Non-electrified households simply cannot improve their health situation to such a degree without access to electricity. Which consequences this entails for the community as a whole has not been researched so far and thus, remains unknown.

Gender, Empowerment and Lifestyle

Access to energy can lessen the burden of women and girls since they are mostly responsible for fuel collection (ENERGIA, 2018; Rathi and Vermaak, 2018; UNDP, 2012).[5][8][9] With access to electricity there is less hard unpaid physical labour for women and more possibilities to generate and increase income. Within a household this may lead to higher bargaining power on the woman’s side. Living in an electrified household can raise women and girls’ wellbeing through improvement of quality of life, health and thus empowerment.

Acquisition of entertainment devices such as radios or TVs mostly comes hand in hand with energy access. In a study carried out in a village in South Africa, electrified households with a television both men and women reported a feeling of political empowerment and inclusion in a wider society through the information provided by news and other programmes (Matinga and Annegarn, 2013).[10]

The impact of communication and television in rural areas is great. Radical changes in lifestyle occur due to people from rural settings being eager to copy the urban way of life. This can result to:

  • Decreased fertility
  • Less domestic violence
  • Higher school enrolment of girls
  • More female representation in the labour force (ENERGIA, 2018; IOB, 2013)[4][9]

These emancipatory advances might not necessarily spread to non-electrified households. Therefore, gradually creating societal asymmetry within a community which can eventually lead to discord and dividedness.


Regarding the impact of electricity on education, it has been observed that in electrified households the children’s weekly study time is higher than in non-electrified households, leading to better educational achievements and thus, improved schooling years (Khandker et al., 2012, 2009a).[3][11] In a study examining rural electrification in India, the average completed schooling year increased by about 0.3 for boys and 0.5 for girls from electrified households (Khandker et al., 2012).[3] Also, in Vietnam school enrolment rose by 14.8% for girls and 17.1% for boys in grid-connected communities (Khandker et al., 2009b).[12] Schooling children of non-electrified households are therefore disadvantaged in comparison to their classmates with electricity access. Increasing differences in educational performance within a learning environment might lead to poorer educational support for either the well-performing or the lesser-performing in school lessons. In the long-run the families with better educational achievements can improve their livelihood more easily. Within communities, larger gaps between well-educated and less well-educated may lead to increased social divides.


Security and convenience are the most common benefits of electrification reported. Thus, it can be assumed that non-electrified households that cannot acquire this sense of security through electric lighting are constantly exposed to higher levels of stress feeling less secure than their neighbours. However, evidence for actual reductions in robberies and thefts in households with access to electricity could not been found (Bensch et al., 2012).[13] Therefore, although households without electricity might feel less secure, no evidence was found that they really are.

Inequalities in Productive Use of Energy

Electricity can benefit enterprises in several ways. Regarding agrobusinesses, the use of electric irrigation pumps can increase crop productivity. Furthermore, businesses are able to work longer hours and use electrical appliances that can enhance productivity and efficacy (Khandker et al., 2009a).[11] However, not all may be able to afford access to energy. Advantages of wealthy electrified businesses may lead to loss of business for non-electrified less wealthy firms and ultimately cause them to shut down (Harsdorff and Bamanyaki, 2009).[14]


Within a community it is normally the wealthier households that are the first who are able to afford access to electricity. High initial connection costs make it difficult for poorer households to acquire an electricity connection. Thus, households which are better-off recover the electrification benefits earlier than poorer households. Different possible impacts arising from this imbalance were mentioned in this article. Within an electrified community, households that do not have access to electricity are disadvantaged economically and in terms of education (school attendance and performance of children). Further, electricity access leads to better health as well as empowerment of women and girls and an elevated sense of security (Table 1.).

However, if the reliability of the electricity connection is poor, electrified households are not better off than households without electricity. With unreliable connection the benefits cannot be recovered to the fullest and simply do not unfold.


Table 1. Overview of Impacts and Resulting Inequality Risks

Impacts of Energy Access
Potential risks through inequality within community due to partial energy access
HH Income & Expenditures
  • More time for income generating activities
  • Less energy expenditures (not always)
The wealth gap increases
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Less burden on fuel collectors

⇒ Improved nutritional status for children

Gender & Empowerment
  • Women/girls: improvement of quality of life & health ⇒ empowerment
  • Political empowerment & sense of inclusion through information
Might lead to societal asymmetry within a community
  • Increased weekly study time
  • Increased school attendance
Gaps between well-educated and less well-educated increase
  • Higher feeling of security at home
However, although households without electricity might feel less secure, no evidence was found that they really are

These numerous impacts of electrification can cause significant change within a household and affect fundamental societal structures. Therefore, it is assumed that if such benefits only reach one part of a community and the other is excluded this may lead to differences and at worst to divide. Especially since it is already the better-off households that can afford the connection, thus leading to them becoming even more advantaged and wealthy and thus, increasing the gap between rich and poor.On the other hand, it could also be likely that these energy-access-induced changes in parts of the community might ultimately have a secondary impact on the whole community.

All previous conclusions are based on assumptions since hardly any literature is available on this specific question. Several questions remain unanswered:

  • Are these inequalities between electrified and non-electrified households measurable/verifiable? And how?
  • Is there societal divide detectable within communities as a result of these inequalities?
  • Are the benefits of being electrified passed onto the neighbouring households or even the whole community (in the long term)?
  • If yes, to what extent and in which fields? In all areas or only specific areas such as women empowerment or education?

Thus, regarding inequalities brought upon communities where some households are electrified, and others are not, further research is still urgently necessary.

Interestingly, research has revealed that even amongst already electrified households, inequalities may arise. Khandker et al. (Khandker et al., 2012)[3] discovered that unequal consumption of electricity and appliance ownership leads to an uneven distribution of electrification benefits and therefore inequality. Wealthier families are able to exploit these channels in a scope that poorer electrified households cannot.

In conclusion, electrifying communities with the aim to provide equal access to everyone is a highly delicate issue with numerous aspects, impacts and consequences that must be taken into consideration. Further research is urgently necessary to assess consequences of inequalities through energy access.

Further information


  1. Standal, K., 2008. Giving Light and Hope in Rural Afghanistan - The Impact of Norwegian Church Aid’s Barefoot Approach on Women Beneficiaries. Univ. Oslo.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 World Bank, 2008. The Welfare Impact of Rural Electrification: A Reassessment of the Costs and Benefits. The World Bank.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Khandker, S.R., Samad, H.A., Ali, R., Barnes, D.F., 2012. Who Benefits Most from Rural Electrification? Evidence in India, Policy Research Working Papers. The World Bank.
  4. 4.0 4.1 IOB, 2013. Renewable energy: access and impact: a systematic literature review of the impact on livelihoods of interventions providing access to renewable energy in developing countries. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB), The Hague.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rathi, S.S., Vermaak, C., 2018. Rural electrification, gender and the labor market: A cross-country study of India and South Africa. World Dev. 109, 346–359.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Fujii, T., Shonchoy, A.S., Xu, S., 2018. Impact of Electrification on Children’s Nutritional Status in Rural Bangladesh. World Dev. 102, 315–330.
  7. Fujii, T., Shonchoy, A.S., 2017. Fertility and Rural Electrification in Bangladesh. Res. Collect. Sch. Econ.
  8. UNDP, 2012. Policy Brief 3 - Gender and Energy. Glob. Gend. Clim. Alliance.
  9. Matinga, M.N., Annegarn, H.J., 2013. Paradoxical impacts of electricity on life in a rural South African village. Energy Policy 58, 295–302.
  10. 11.0 11.1 Khandker, S.R., Barnes, D.F., Samad, H.A., 2009a. Welfare Impacts Of Rural Electrification: A Case Study From Bangladesh, Policy Research Working Papers. The World Bank.
  11. Khandker, S.R., Barnes, D.F., Samad, H., Huu Minh, N., 2009b. Welfare Impacts of Rural Electrification - Evidence from Vietnam. Policy Res. Work. Pap. Impact Evaluation Series No. 38.
  12. Bensch, G., Peters, J., Sievert, M., 2012. Fear of the Dark? – How Access to Electric Lighting Affects Security Attitudes and Nighttime Activities in Rural Senegal.