Journal Article - January 2021
Is energy the golden thread? A systematic review of the impacts of modern and traditional energy use in low- and middle-income countries
Energy has been called the “golden thread” that connects economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability, but important knowledge gaps exist on the impacts of low- and middle-income country energy interventions and transitions. This study offers perhaps the broadest characterization to date of the patterns and consistency in quantitative and peer-reviewed social science literature considering such impacts. Starting from approximately 80,000 papers identified using a search procedure organized along energy services, technology, and impact dimensions, and structured to achieve breadth and replicability, articles were first screened to yield a relevant subset of 3,000 quantitative papers. Relevance is defined as providing one or more types of impacts on intra-household, household, firm, public service, national economy, or environmental outcomes. A set of heat maps highlights areas of concentration in the literature, namely work that emphasizes the negative health and pollution effects of traditional cooking and fossil fuel use. The extent and consistency of evidence for different types of impacts (in terms of direction and statistical significance) is also discussed, which reveals considerable heterogeneity and highlights important knowledge gaps that remain despite rapidly expanding energy scholarship. The patterns of evidence are also surprisingly consistent across methods. The article concludes by articulating several research challenges that should motivate current and future generations of energy and development scholars.