Changing Social Norms to Expand Energy Access via Electricity Payments in Pakistan
The ability of governments to expand access to energy runs aground when state capacity is limited. Unpaid bills and electricity theft can create a leaky bucket that results in energy access being curtailed, especially for those experiencing poverty. Together with the government of Pakistan, researchers will evaluate a novel intervention that seeks to shift social norms on the payment of electricity in areas beyond the reach of the state. Influential agents, notably local religious institutions (mosques), will deliver messages to encourage electricity payment in rural communities in northwest Pakistan. In this context, electricity theft is weakly correlated with consumption, a proxy for income, suggesting that in the study context encouraging payments is not regressive. By design, as bill payments increase due to changing social norms, the amount of incoming electricity supply also increases, creating a possibility for a better outcome for all. To guard against concerns about the ability of the poorest people to pay, some communities will randomly receive financial subsidies on their electricity bills. This allows the researchers to trace the demand for electricity in these areas to understand how the intervention affects the well-being of people experiencing poverty. The project builds on a long-term engagement with the federal government in Pakistan, opening a clear path to scale if proven effective.