Almost 800 million people in developing countries are not connected to the electricity grid. Those with power are often subject to unreliable supply and frequent outages. One reason for this is that utilities are frequently unable to reliably bill consumers or collect on payments, forcing them to limit power purchases and ration supply to stave off bankruptcy. This project will evaluate the use of new technology (smart meters) in India to break this cycle of low payments and low-quality through a large-scale randomized control trial. India recently launched arguably the largest roll-out of new metering in the developing world, with a target of installing about 250 million new meters by 2025. Unfortunately, little evidence exists on the best way to use these meters and specifically on the impacts of different features on outcomes such as payment rates, supply quality, or consumer satisfaction.
In partnership with the state of Jammu and Kashmir, researchers will partner with the government utility to carry out an impact evaluation of different metering features that are currently being rolled out in India, including remote disconnections, online monitoring, and pre-paid metering. To the extent that smart meters allow utilities to reduce arrears, especially those accumulated by large consumers, they are better able to improve supply to all consumers. Additionally, the use of smart meters allows for better fault identification and improved monitoring of supply quality, potentially allowing for a virtuous cycle of better quality and more reliable payments. Rigorously quantifying these impacts will provide governments with guidance on how best to deploy this new technology. The project will generate some of the first evidence of large-scale metering impacts in a high-theft, low-income setting with a widespread norm of incomplete payments.