Tracking India’s economic progress via night lights

Superb post by Kwawu Mensan Gaba and Bruno Sánchez-Andrade Nuño of World Bank.

They link to this website which shows night lighting in India (and other countries) over last 20 years:

Electricity is integral to people’s well-being across the world. With electricity, children can study at night, women can walk home more safely on well-lit streets, and businesses can stay open well past dusk. However, more than one billion people still lack access to electricity today. Governments and electric utilities around the world are mobilizing vast sums of money to close the access gap, especially in rural areas that are home to those lacking electricity.

So, how can we determine and identify who has electricity and who doesn’t? What if we had the technology and tools to help us see lights from space every night, for every village, in every country? We could then closely monitor progress on the ground. We could even plan and optimize policies and interventions in a different manner.

That “what-if” scenario is now a reality. Our latest initiative,, monitors four billion light signals on earth each day, and visualizes night lightdata spanning the last 20 years. was made possible by space agencies around the world. Combined, these agencies have around 1,300 satellites currently in orbit and capturing a wealth of data and information on our planet. We began to explore the use of night light data to monitor rural electrification in countries with low electrification rates, such as Mali and Senegal, and then expanded our work to Vietnam, which has a 98% electrification rate.

Last year, through the World Bank’s Innovation Labs and Development Seed, we refined our approach and scaled up to look at the entire India, a country with a high density of villages. We analyzed the daily light signatures of more than 600,000 villages during a 20-year period (from 1993 to 2013), and visualized electrification trends on

The pictures are truly stunning.


We’re now looking ahead and making decisions on where to focus our next electrification efforts. Where has electrification been successful? What other variables are related to faster electrification? What other sources can we combine with these results to learn more? Could we mash up this dashboard with other development indicators? These are all questions we’ll begin to explore and hopefully answer in the coming months and years.

We launched this platform at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Government officials, the private sector, and many interested parties were gathered and invited to provide feedback. We would like to refine the platform, build new capabilities, and generate nuanced reports to meet the myriad needs of potential country-level beneficiaries. We also want to see how this approach could be replicated across the developing world.

Picture worth a 1000 words..


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