EEG research projects
Image: Elnur Amikishiyev © 123RF.com

Two commissioned research projects will assess COVID-19 lockdowns’ impact on utility revenue collection and whether having reliable power improves health and economic resilience.

The Energy and Economic Growth (EEG) applied research programme, funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), is leading the research.

With COVID-19 negatively affecting energy sectors in developing countries, and further highlighting that reliable electricity plays an indispensable role in our lives, EEG has funded two main research projects, as well as a range of research papers, on the relationship between the pandemic and energy.

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Simon Trace, EEG’s programme director, said: “A country’s resilience to COVID-19 will, in part, be underpinned by whether its power supplies are sufficient and reliable enough to provide adequate healthcare, deliver other critical services and support the economy.

“It is likely the pandemic will reveal new issues to consider in future approaches to energy system planning, operation and maintenance. We hope our new research projects will inform decision-making that can lead to reduced energy poverty and increased resilience.”

Newly electrified targetted in EEG research projects

One of the projects, led by Yale University in the US and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, is investigating whether electricity access can improve Sierra Leone’s economic and health resilience to the COVID-19 crisis.

While many studies have focused on how improved access to reliable electricity impacts people’s livelihoods, few have looked at how it can increase resilience and help populations cope with large health and economic shocks.

The research team is assessing whether people in recently electrified rural communities are better able to cope with the pandemic and the associated lockdowns compared to those without access to reliable electricity.

The research will be completed within the next few months, but early health data suggests that electrification increases clinic quality and thus use, and that fewer people skip health visits if their community health clinic is electrified.

Utility revenue resilience against pandemic

Led by the US’ Duke University, the second of EEG research projects aim to understand the role that metering and infrastructure improvements can play in power system resilience.

Prior to COVID-19, some utilities in developing countries implemented measures to increase cost recovery, and, in turn, improve the quality of electricity services.

They included installing modern metering systems to help mitigate the problems of low payment and theft, and upgrading old infrastructure with aerial bundled cables to help prevent illegal connections.

Lockdowns have restricted the movement of billions of people, affecting utilities’ face-to-face revenue collection models, making these interventions potentially more important, with greater benefits.

Yet there is currently no evidence on their effectiveness. The research team will explore how the pandemic has affected the efficacy and resilience of metering systems and infrastructure upgrades in reducing loss and/or increasing cost recovery in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.