From the Ground Up: The Business and Policy Landscape for Energy Access in Zambia (2018-2019)

In this large southern African country, off-grid energy companies know there is widespread demand for their services. However, they struggle to identify the best locations for expansion, and many communities still lack access to electricity—a key barrier to jobs, quality of life and economic growth.

This project team set out to understand the energy access problem and potential solutions from the perspectives of people dealing with it first-hand. Through two trips to Zambia, team members built relationships with key players in the sector. They also visited a wide range of communities and went door to door to understand residents’ energy needs and habits.

Back on campus, they created an open-source geospatial model to help project developers and system planners identify location-specific assets, opportunities and barriers for expanding access to energy. Users can apply filters, add custom data layers, examine customers’ willingness and ability to pay for services and identify the most appropriate sites for off-grid electrification based on individualized criteria.

Team members also produced an overview of the Zambian off-grid ecosystem including all important stakeholders, financing and assistance platforms, and market barriers.

Three Nicholas School master’s students are moving forward on one aspect of this work, teaming up with energy services company Standard Microgrid to understand the types of small businesses that are critical to anchoring electricity demand and spurring development in Zambian microgrid communities.


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019

Team Outputs

Zambian Microgrid Selection

Off-Grid Market Selection in Zambia (overview document by Ayo Balogun, Ian Ferguson, Sumin Wang)

Energy Access in Zambia: From the Ground Up (poster by Rob Fetter, Jonathan Phillips, Subhrendu Pattanayak, John Fay, Marc Jeuland, Robyn Meeks, Dalia Patino-Echeverri, John Simpkins, Aashna Aggarwal, Ayo Balogun, Ian Ferguson, Adaiya Granberry, Manfei He, Kemunto Okindo, Pooja Madhusudan Rao, Harshvardhan Sanghi, Rachel Wall, Sumin Wang, Miranda Wolford, Evelyn Yun, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)

Zambia Field Experience Video


Miranda Wolford

Aashna Aggarwal


Zambia Field Experience

Aashna Aggarwal, TEDxDuke: Identifying Hidden Opportunities for Value Creation

Energy Student Profile: Aashna Aggarwal


Ep. 91 Powering Rural Africa

This Team in the News

Team Explores Energy Access in Zambia from the Ground Up

Zambia: From the Ground Up

Student Highlights of 2019

Meet the Members of the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions 2019 Annual Report

These Seniors Took Their Bass Connections Research Further and Graduated with Distinction

Can Microgrids Enable Macro Development?

Donor Support Spurs Interdisciplinary Research on Pressing Global Challenges

Group picture of members of the team

Team Leaders

  • T. Robert Fetter, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
  • Jonathan Phillips, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

/graduate Team Members

  • Ian Ferguson, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment, International Development Pol
  • Manfei He, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
  • Pooja Madhusudan Rao, Masters of Public Policy
  • Rachel Wall, Masters of Public Policy, International Dev Policy
  • Sumin Wang, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Aashna Aggarwal, Economics (BS)
  • Ayooluwa Balogun, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Adaiya Granberry, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Kemunto Okindo, Civil Engineering (BSE)
  • Harshvardhan Sanghi, Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Economics (BS2)
  • Miranda Wolford, Int Comparative Studies (AB)
  • Xueqing Yun, Statistical Science (BS), History (AB2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • John Fay, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Marc Jeuland, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Robyn Meeks, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Dalia Patino Echeverri, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Subhrendu Pattanayak, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • John Simpkins, Duke Law