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


Access to electricity and other forms of modern energy is crucial to development. Power is indispensable for activities such as lighting, refrigeration, heating, cooling and commerce and development more broadly. Yet about 1.1 billion people lack access to electricity, and another billion or so have unreliable access that hinders productivity and economic development among households, companies and public institutions.

While a number of actors have entered the market, with public and private commitments totaling about $19 billion per year in recent years, a substantial investment gap remains. Understanding the barriers to investment is essential for addressing the needs of the households, communities and enterprises that lack access to modern energy sources.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project aims to understand the energy access problem and potential solutions from the perspective of people who are dealing with it firsthand. These include households, communities and enterprises that lack access to reliable electricity; international and domestic companies that are in the market to provide off-grid and on-grid solutions; and policymakers.

Within this “bottom-up” context, the project team will address the barriers to investment by creating a market analysis and a regulatory roadmap. Targeted at policymakers and market actors, these products will aim to help accelerate the development of well-functioning markets for public and private investment in on-grid and off-grid electricity provision.

The market analysis will involve identifying institutions and private actors who together comprise the market ecosystem of electricity providers. For off-grid and minigrid power, the work includes analyzing the products available and business models for distribution, remote monitoring and payment as well as related services among existing suppliers and intermediaries. As team members analyze the market, they will also seek to identify possible gaps in institutions that facilitate effective markets, such as entities that provide reliable information about product quality or adjudicate contract disputes. The team will probe the interdependencies among market actors, examine which customers are being served, compare the positions of domestic and foreign entrepreneurs and collect high-level data on sources of financial and human capital.

The team will also do analysis around the on-grid electricity market. As countries become increasingly interested in tapping private capital markets and building more robust power systems, they are considering what sorts of reforms may be necessary to the traditional government-owned, vertically integrated utility model. Accordingly, the team will produce a tailored regulatory assessment and roadmap tool to help policymakers with the complicated decisions around power markets and regulatory design. The roadmap will cover elements such as power contracting arrangements, pricing, dispatching, day-ahead markets and other mechanisms for achieving increased system efficiency.

Anticipated Outcomes

Off-grid market analysis; discussion paper on institutional and policy obstacles to investment in energy access, with recommendations for policymakers; expert panel on business and policy landscape for reliable electricity access in East Africa; at least one conference, discussion or journal paper based on regulatory roadmap and market analysis; team poster and final presentation


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: Mid to late August (e.g., August 15-25): spend about 7 days in an emerging economy in sub-Saharan Africa (Zambia) visiting communities and households in varying stages of energy access, as well as with entrepreneurs, policymakers and others involved in providing energy access
  • Fall 2018: Short course on frameworks for market analysis, market failures, institutional voids and implications for firms, policy analysis skills, regulatory models, energy access, impacts and drivers of on and off grid electrification; engage in process of scoping a problem statement, defining goals and developing process for team interaction and collaboration; short paper that summarizes learning to date and describes goals for spring
  • Spring 2019: Execute projects; report out; compile end products and share through public presentation; participate in Bass Connections Showcase and, if desired, Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI) Annual Conference

This Team in the News

Donor Support Spurs Interdisciplinary Research on Pressing Global Challenges

Energy access

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • T. Robert Fetter, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions*
  • Hannah Girardeau, Sanford School of Public 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
  • Jonathan Phillips, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions*
  • John Simpkins, Duke Law

/graduate Team Members

  • Ian Ferguson, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
  • Manfei He, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
  • Yating Li, Environmental Policy-PHD
  • Pooja Madhusudan Rao, Public Policy Studies-MPP
  • Sumin Wang, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Aashna Aggarwal, Economics (BS)
  • Ayooluwa Balogun
  • Adaiya Granberry, Public Policy Studies (AB), Cultural Anthropology (AB2)
  • Kemunto Okindo
  • Harshvardhan Sanghi, Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Economics (AB2)
  • Miranda Wolford
  • Xueqing Yun