Applying the decent living concept established by the IIASA Energy Program, IIASA researchers are studying how access to energy supply affects people’s lives and livelihoods, and how to provide energy services equitably.  

How much energy do people need for a basic quality of life? How does energy access affect income? How much energy is required to build and maintain infrastructures? Answering these questions is essential for understanding the role of energy in development, and in building effective energy policies that will provide fair access to energy services around the world.

Access to energy and electricity are fundamental to meeting basic human needs, and a key requirement in the fight to eradicate poverty around the world and achieve decent living standards (DLS) – meaning all their basic human needs such as shelter, mobility, food, and hygiene are met, while also having access to modern, high quality healthcare, education, and information technology. Studies on poverty often use an income-based definition for defining poverty thresholds ($1.90/day or $5.50/day), which obscures that there are other factors contributing to human wellbeing more directly. In contrast, DLS represent a set of material prerequisites to provide the services needed for wellbeing. Crucially, this allows for calculation of the resources needed to provide these basic services, which can vary tremendously across incomes, climates, seasons and regions even within nations. However, these heterogeneities are rarely taken into account, and studies on electricity demand in developing countries are scarce. 

IIASA researches investigate these questions using the MESSAGEx model, input-output analysis, econometric modeling, and material flow analysis.

Energy and Infrastructure

Developing countries’ demand for infrastructure, including roads, electrical grids, and public water systems, is growing rapidly. Building and maintaining that infrastructure requires energy, but how much?

Roads, electricity, and water pipes: these public systems supply basic needs to millions of people. Where infrastructure is poor, the people are likely also poor. How does infrastructure need to expand to meet basic needs in developing countries? And how will that growth contribute to energy use in the near future? IIASA researchers are working to figure out just how much energy use will increase as infrastructure grows in developing countries. 

In trying to model how much energy people will use in the future, researchers must account for future growth in public infrastructure systems. In developing countries, infrastructure is likely to grow immensely in the next 20 years. According to one estimate,  three-quarters of the power supply for 2030 is yet to be built. But because infrastructure is a resource shared by many people, it is difficult to estimate how much is required, or predict how quickly it will be built. It is also challenging to ensure that access is equitable.

IIASA researchers are studying these questions within the Energy Access theme.

Energy and Economic Development

Previous studies have shown that people who have access to electricity tend to earn more money than people without.  However few studies have explored the cause and effect relationships between energy and income. This project examines both how energy is tied to quality of life, and also explores the links between energy access and livelihoods in developing countries. It also looks closely at the actual conditions in which people consume energy. For example, there is a big difference between having electricity for 3 hours a day compared to 16 or 24 hours. 

Project researchers are using economic models including input-output analysis, econometric analysis, and material flow analysis to examine the many economic factors that tie into these questions.

Researchers found that providing electricity access increases the chance of household-based businesses being established in India. Moreover, increasing hours of electricity supply have an increasing effect on the incomes of household enterprises.

Household Energy Transitions

Many people rely on traditional and polluting forms of fuel like wood and coal that contribute to health problems and air pollution. How do people make choices about fuel and appliances, and how can policies encourage people to switch to cleaner fuels?

Millions of people in developing countries still cook their food over wood fires, or heat their homes with coal-fired stoves. These traditional fuels can be extremely harmful to the people who use them—producing smoke and airborne pollution that adds to lung and heart disease. Particulate pollution from burning solid fuels was estimated as contributing to 2.2 million deaths in 2005 by the Global Energy Analysis (GEA). Solid fuels also spew pollutants into the atmosphere, from the small particles that cause lung disease, to black carbon and other gases that contribute to climate change.

Switching to cleaner fuels would improve health, help clean the local and global atmosphere, and could even have an immediate impact on climate change. This project explores how people in developing countries make decisions about their household energy use, and looks at what policies are effective for getting people to switch to cleaner fuels. Using the MESSAGE-Access model, a type of energy demand model, along with econometric and statistical analysis techniques, project researchers are looking for effective ways to get people to transition to cleaner fuels.

The GEA estimates that achieving universal access to modern cooking fuels and devices by 2030 could cost between $17 to 22 billion per year but could result in over one million lives saved annually, mostly those of women and children under the age of 5.


Research Projects


Shape © Shape

SHAPE:  SHAPE aims to contribute an in-depth analysis of sustainable development pathways (SDPs) that achieve the SDGs in 2030 and maintain sustainable development to reach the Paris climate goals until 2100. In the SHAPE project, IIASA leads the work on climate change and inequality, working on improving the global representation of shelter and thermal comfort and perform a global analysis energy needs required for reaching Decent Living Standards.


EDITS project © IIASA

EDITS: The Energy Demand changes Induced by Technological and Social innovations (EDITS) network brings together experts of various disciplines to regularly discuss about and engage in the multi-faceted energy demand research. The EDITS community works together based on common interest in interlinked topics, on transferring methodological knowledge, and on exploring modeling innovations across demand-side models. 



LEAP-RE: LEAP-RE - RE4AFAGRI aims at developing the state of the art of climate-water-energy--land-food-environment nexus modelling in rural areas of developing countries to bridge the current gap between large-scale and local-scale analysis approaches. The project aims to provide a set of open-source validated tools developed through analytical and empirical approaches that can be exploited by stakeholders in future applications.


Navigate © Navigate

NAVIGATE: NAVIGATE aims to develop the Next generation of AdVanced InteGrated Assessment modelling to support climaTE policy making. By tackling existing weaknesses and lack of capabilities of the current generation of IAMs, NAVIGATE will provide new insight into how long-term climate goals can translate into short-term policy action, and how countries and sectors can work in concert to implement the Paris Agreement.