Thomas Lutken: Mapping Energy Infrastructure

Thomas Lutken spent the summer of 2018 in India to conduct a survey and map energy infrastructure in the rural regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India.

His internship was funded, in part, by an Energy Access Project program that sponsors student work via internships or research projects that focus on either modern technologies and fuels for cooking or access to reliable, affordable, safe, and sustainable electricity in less developed countries. Below Lutken shares his experience in India in his own words.

What did you do?

I worked on a research project where I conducted a household and community surveys that looked at the impacts of electricity quality and reliability in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar India. My research team collected data not only on the quality of, and access to electricity, but also on the types of energy used for cooking, the daily activities of all members of the household. A Raven’s Childhood aptitude test was given to primary and secondary school-aged children. With this abundance of data, it is our hope to be able to answer comprehensive questions about the impacts of better, more consistent electricity supply to these rural villages.

Working with local experts, I was able to determine the quality of electricity, namely how many outages occurred each month or how many households even had electricity. Combining what government data I could find regarding outages and verifying with the experts at Morsel Data Group, I was able to produce a map for a set of villages which describes electricity supply and quality across both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This gives our research team’s dataset robustness and allows us to comment on the economic and social impacts of that difference in electricity quality.

What did you take away from the experience?

With other teammates, I traveled to 21 villages across eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar and got the chance to be present for about half of this project’s field work. The information I documented during this trip—the number of transformers, solar panels, electric or diesel irrigation pumps, water towers, and other features—is helping me understand how people are using electricity in these regions based on their infrastructure and its quality. Also, a Bass Connections team led by Duke’s Kyle Bradbury will use the geolocations associated with all this infrastructure to train a computer program in identifying these features from satellite imagery. By tying a geolocation to my infrastructure photos, Kyle’s team can improve their machine learning algorithm and hopefully extrapolate out from our research area to all of Northern India.
All this has me excited to examine our data for my master’s project and to investigate which government electrification programs worked the best at improving the wellbeing of the people in these communities. None of this would have been possible without the funding from the Energy Access Project, for which I am extremely grateful.