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Caren Alt

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Impacts of Solar Lanterns: Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh

There is a growing public interest in the diffusion of affordable modren off-grid lighting to help the destitute in less developed countries.

While anecdote evidence that emphasizes the potential of such modern technology is accumulating, rigorous empirical evidence is still scant. This study aims at providing one of few rigorous evaluations on the short-term effects of solar products on a household’s decision-making in less advanced economies. (…) Several findings were obtained:

  1. Providing solar products decreased study hours of school-age children at home in the daytime while increasing hours of study in the night. Consequently, treated children also increased their total study hours at home during the first 8 months of investigation (from September 2013 to April 2014). This increase in study hours was more evident before an examination season. However, daytime activities that those children alternatively angaged in, by substituting their study hours, was not clearly identified in the current study.
  2. The rate of school attendance also increased as a result of our experiment for the initial several months following the provision of solar lanterns.
  3. Despite these increases in study hours and school attendance, there was no evidence supporting that children that received solar lamps achieved higher scores at examination than those that did not.
  4. Although the changes wer not so remarkable for 14 months of investigation, this study still provides some evidence suggesting health improvements of those treated children, especially for their eye related problems. The relevant findings also highlighted the effectiveness of professional health checks for the purpose of assessing health conditions, compared to a respondent’s subjective evaluation.
  5. Households that received solar lamps substituted the modern technology for traditional light sources, such as kerosene lamps/lanterns. This behavioral change resulted in a significant decrease in annual kerosene expenditures, which in turn reduced the total household expenditures for 12 months. However, it is not clearly identified from the current research how the saved money was exploited, because the amount of savings and households assets did not show significant increases. After the experimental phase, finally, treated households also revealed a greater willingness to purchase solar products than those in a control group.

These results together suggest that despite the apparent improvement in the reduction of household expenditure on biomass fuels and increased children’s nighttime study due to the introduction of solar lanterns, no sizable impacts on educational performance, health outcomes, and houseold welfare emerge by simply providing those products in an experimental setting.The portable and affordable lanterns would be a welcoming addition to the ongoing fight to reduce “energy poverty” in the geographically challenged areas, but better technological enhancement to provide bright lights for long hours may be required to bring about the substantial benefits to those “energy poor.”

Excerpt from: Impacts of Solar Lanterns in Geographically Challenged Locations: Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh, by Yuya Kudo, Abu S. Shonchoy, Kazushi Takahashi. IDE Discussion Paper No. 502, Chiba (Japan) March 2015, p. 20/21.

Download the full study here.



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