Nathan Williams

June 2: Nathan Williams, Rochester Institute of Technology

Necessary but Not Sufficient: Unlocking the Impact of Electricity Access

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Nathan Williams
Nathan Williams

Dr. Nathan Williams is an Assistant Professor at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His research focuses on African energy systems with a particular interest in the use of renewable and decentralized energy technologies to expand access to electricity. His work has applied various methods including techno-economic modeling, risk analysis and machine learning. More broadly, he is interested in how infrastructure systems in the Global South can be planned in an integrated and sustainable manner to support social and economic development in underserved communities.


While access to electricity remains a major challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, significant progress has been made in rolling out new connections. The drive for universal access is underpinned by the assumption that these new connections will be harnessed to advance social and economic development, however the literature is mixed on short term impacts. Data from both national electric utilities and off-grid electricity service providers show low levels of electricity consumption and stagnant growth in newly connected communities. This state of affairs suggests that, while electricity access may be necessary for development, it is not by itself sufficient. For electrification programs to successfully foster development, more attention is required on the demand side of the electricity access problem. This talk presents findings from a set of studies on demand side challenges and opportunities for electrification programs in East Africa. The first project studies the effect of complementary infrastructure and services on the electricity consumption of grid connected small and medium enterprises in Kenya. The second study examines the effect of appliance finance and tariff subsidy programs on electricity consumption on mini-grids in Kenya and Tanzania. Finally, through case studies in Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, geospatial and biophysical crop modeling approaches to identify opportunities for co-investment in electrification and small-scale irrigation will be discussed.

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