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Mapping India's Electricity Deserts

A project uses satellite imagery to show how access to power has improved in villages across the country.
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India Lights

Cow dung and Kerosene lamps. That’s how many of the 200 million-plus Indians who live without electricity generate light and heat in their homes. The number of such households has decreased during the last 20 years, but large swathes of rural land in the country remain stuck in darkness, a mapping project by the University of Michigan and the World Bank shows. Here are the creators in a blog post accompanying the project:

People greatly benefit from access to electricity. Kids can study in the evenings, families can have better access to news, farms can use electric tools, and businesses can stay open later. Switching from kerosene to electric lighting results in better air quality and improved health for family members.

Researchers used data from satellite images of the country taken every night from 1993 to 2013 to visualize the light emitted by 600,000 villages in India. Each yellow spot on the map shows how much light a particular village was giving out at a point on the timeline.

The India lights map also lets users zoom in on the state and district levels, where you can see median monthly aggregates of light output expressed on a 0-to-63-point scale. The graphs at the bottom of the map show how these values have changed for each state, district, and village over time.

Here’s the median light output for the state of Uttar Pradesh, located in the center of the country. The graph below the map shows the few districts that have recently been emitting more light than the the state average:

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And here’s Gautam Buddha Nagar, one district neighboring within Uttar Pradesh that’s doing quite well compared to others:

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The detailed maps also give a sense of how some of the villages selected to participate in the government’s national electrification program, launched in 2005, are doing. The district above, for example, had 49 participating villages. In general, data show that light output in most of the participating villages increased since the program, the researchers write, but it’s not completely clear whether that’s directly a result of the program or of the general shift towards electrification happening in the country.

Nevertheless, the map shows progress. It also shows how urgent demand is for electricity in the many unlit parts of the country. Although the country has vowed to shift to renewable energy to meet it, that shift may still be a long way off into the future.