Wolfram, Gertler to lead energy program to help alleviate poverty

$19M UK grant will fund the five-year global research program aimed at South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa

Energy holds the power to alleviate poverty and promote economic growth for the 2 billion people without access to reliable electricity. Yet little insight exists into how countries could maximize the benefits of their energy investments to this effect while minimizing economic and environmental costs.

This knowledge gap will be the focus of Energy for Economic Growth (EEG), a new research program led jointly by UC Berkeley’s Energy Institute @ Haas and Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), and Oxford Policy Management (OPM), an international development consultancy based in the UK. Their program is funded by a five-year, $19 million research grant from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

EEG brings together a global network of academic researchers and policymakers whose work will inform high-level decisions affecting the energy sector, with a focus on South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The multi-disciplinary EEG consortium includes economists, engineers, and political scientists from around the world.

Berkeley-Haas professors Catherine Wolfram and Paul Gertler will lead the program. Wolfram will serve as EEG research director and Gertler will serve as deputy director. They both also serve as scientific directors of Energy & Environment at CEGA.

“Intuitively, we all know that energy is quite literally an engine for economic development. Yet we are still very much in the dark about how and to what extent energy drives growth, especially in low-income countries,” says Wolfram, Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration and faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas.

“We seek to better understand the mechanisms through which energy investment contributes to economic growth,” says Gertler, Li Ka Shing Professor in Economic and Policy Analysis. “This evidence gap presents a risk of misallocating scarce public resources, especially in low and middle income countries where energy demand is increasing. Without informed decision-making, large numbers of people are left to languish in poverty.”

During its first year, EEG will produce a comprehensive set of State-of-Knowledge papers in six thematic areas related to electricity supply, governance, sustainable urbanization, large-scale renewables, the role of extractives, and innovative “cleantech” design.

These papers will inform a research agenda for subsequent years of the program. In the future, EEG will allocate funding to teams of researchers and implement partners through a competitive “request for proposal” (RFP) process. Ultimately, the portfolio of evidence generated through EEG research will support economic growth and poverty reduction by helping to create sustainable, efficient and equitable energy systems.