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Energy access and the ultra-poor: Do unconditional social cash transfers close the energy access gap in Malawi?

This article compares the energy access gap between ultra-poor and better-off households in Malawi. It also examines whether unconditional social cash transfers boost access to improved lighting and improved cookstoves among the ultra-poor.

Rob Bailis / Published on 4 January 2021

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Aung, T., Bailis, R., Chilongo, T., Ghilardi, A., Jumbe, C., & Jagger, P. Energy access and the ultra-poor: Do unconditional social cash transfers close the energy access gap in Malawi? Energy for Sustainable Development, 60, 102-112.

Altogether, 40% of the world’s population live in energy poverty without access to both electricity and clean cooking.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest global rate of energy access with more than 600 million people lacking access to electricity.

Progress on transitions to modern energy mostly occurs in urban areas, suggesting that current energy transitions may leave out the ultra-poor and those living in remote areas or last mile settings. The chronically poor are often overlooked by governments developing energy policy and programs because the population is often remote and/or cannot pay for energy services when they become available.

This research focuses on the challenge of improving energy access for the ultra-poor. Malawi provides a relevant location to study energy access disparities because it is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2017, approximately 95% of Malawi’s rural population had no electricity access and > 95% relied on solid fuels including firewood, charcoal and crop residues as a primary source of cooking fuel.

In this study, researchers explore the relationship between poverty and energy access, and evaluate whether receiving unconditional social cash transfer payments improve energy access. Recipients of these payments had significantly reduced odds of having no source of lighting in the household and were more than three times more likely to own an improved cookstove compared to ultra-poor households that have not received payments.

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Rob Bailis

Senior Scientist


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