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Studying the Potential of Electrification in Developing India’s Rural Economy

August 19, 2019
Daniella Grimberg – Class of 2022

Research Mentors: Michael Machala, Sally Benson
Prospective Major: Computer Science 

This summer, through the SUPER program, I embarked on my first research experience. I have been working under Professor Sally Benson’s lab with my mentor Michael Machala and in collaboration with CEEW, a non-profit research institution in India, to develop a research project aiming to help economic development in Rural India post electrification. More specifically, I am studying how the rural economic markets might change with electrification, aiming to gain insights useful for rural entrepreneurs and investors.

When Michael and I first met through SUPER, the details of the project were quite uncertain. CEEW, the research institution, had recently published a paper on the potential of electrifying appliances in certain Rural Income Generating Activities and the market sizes for them, and they had reached out to us to help expand their research project. Michael proposed that for my summer research internship I took the lead on this project with his mentorship. At first, I felt rushed to decide on something. I will study the non-linear growth of electricity demand in Rural India post electrification, I thought. And after I devised a method of study and found useful datasets, I found out my project had been done already, by renowned economists and research institutes. At this point, Michael gave me some advice that would be crucial for the remainder of my summer. First you study what has already been done in the field, what is out there, he said, then you identify the gaps, and evaluate whether you can work on them. Perhaps my main discovery of the summer is that refining a research project and deciding on a specific area of focus is a project in and of itself. It was a 3-week process of literature review, identification of potential areas of focus and validating them by further research and connecting to experts in the field. Then, once I chose my research project of probing economic markets in rural India post electrification, I had to narrow the focus so I could start. Since then, it has been 7 weeks of navigating the endless databases of India’s markets and incredible discoveries along the way; such as the fact that the market for manufacturing wooden containers in India grew by 1034% between 2004 and 2014!

I am very grateful I chose to participate in SUPER for the summer.  I have become so involved in my project, and its purpose of helping rural development in India through electricity access, that I have decided with my mentor Michael that we will be extending it beyond the summer.