Evidence Resources

CEE Evidence Syntheses

What are the major barriers to increased use of modern energy services among the world’s poorest people and are interventions to overcome these effective? (systematic review)


Background: A lack of access to modern energy services among the world’s poor is widely
recognised to have negative impacts on their health, education and quality of life, as well as a
lack of growth of income at a national and individual scale, further deepening and entrenching
their poverty. However, despite the long-standing efforts of many national and international
organisations to improve the accessibility of the poor to modern energy services, progress has
been slow. Given the uneven record of interventions over many years, there is a large body of
literature that attempts to identify what is preventing success (i.e. what are the barriers), and what
policies might be implemented to realise widespread access to modern energy services for the
world’s poor.

Methods: The review was performed in order to answer the question: (i) “What are the major
barriers to increased use of modern energy services among the world’s poorest people”, and (ii)
“are interventions to overcome these effective?” A structured, systematic review of academic and
grey literature focussed on developing economies, including the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India,
China and South Africa) countries, was conducted according to a detailed search protocol. This
included five sets of search terms relating to modern energy services, modern energy
technologies, barriers, interventions, and effectiveness measures. Semi-structured interviews were
also conducted to triangulate the literature searches and findings. Retrieved papers were then
systematically reviewed and included in the study according to a detailed set of criteria related to
relevance to the topic of barriers to, and interventions for, modern energy services. In particular,
papers were included if relevant to barriers, interventions, lessons learned and geographic focus.
Furthermore, each paper was assessed in terms of the quality of its evidence base and foundation
for conclusions. Papers which met these criteria as well as a rigorous set of quality criteria for
methodological robustness were qualitatively analysed and synthesised into a single narrative.

Results: Despite the large body of work analysing barriers to, and interventions for, using
modern energy services, there is a highly uneven spread of coverage and a significant lack of high
quality research. Much of the literature focuses on financial barriers and interventions, electricity
services, a few technologies, and a small number of developing countries. Within the limited high
quality research available, there are constraints to the certainty with which conclusions can be
drawn about what barriers are the most important, and what is the relative effectiveness of
interventions to overcome them. While this is problematic for policy makers seeking to intervene
to increase the use of modern energy services amongst the world’s poorest people, there are areas
where evidence is conclusive. It is also important to note that the particular method of conducting
a systematic review may exclude significant amounts of evidence from the practitioner literature,
which might be reporting valuable knowledge relevant to the focus of this review.

Conclusions: Most of the evidence on economic and technical barriers to energy access is
consistent and strong. Specifically, this evidence relates to high upfront costs of energy
conversion technologies and grid-connection charges, cost-recovery difficulties, poor
performance of equipment, and technical capacities for operation and maintenance. However,
evidence for interventions to overcome these is less robust. The weakest evidence concerns
political and cultural barriers and associated interventions, despite frequent references to their
importance. Moreover, our review highlights the interactions between different types of barriers
and interventions. To understand these interactions, and increase the chances that the poor can
gain access to modern energy services, analyses of barriers and implementation of interventions
should be more systemic. The review concludes with implications for policy, management and
research that flow from these conclusions.


Modern energy services, Modern energy technologies, barriers, interventions, developing countries, Sub-Saharan Africa

Who's in the review team?

Jim Watson
Rob Byrne
Molly Morgan Jones
Flavia Tsang
J. Opazo
C. Fry
S. Castle-Clarke

At what stage is the review?


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