Brown-out of policy ideas? A bibliometric review and computational text analysis of research on energy access

N. Goyal, Michael Howlett

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Introduction: The target of universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services—key for individual, social, and economic well-being—is unlikely to be achieved by 2030 based on the current trend. Public policy will likely need to play a key role in accelerating progress in this regard. Although perspectives from the field of policy studies can support this effort, to what extent they have been employed in the literature on energy access remains unclear.

Methods: This study analyzed nearly 7,500 publications on energy access through a combination of bibliometric review and computational text analysis of their titles and abstracts to examine whether and how they have engaged with public policy perspectives, specifically, policy process research, policy design studies, and the literature on policy evaluation.

Results: We discovered 27 themes in the literature on energy access, but public policy was not among them. Subsequently, we identified 23 themes in a new analysis of the 1,751 publications in our original dataset, mentioning “policy” in their title or abstract. However, few of them engaged with public policy, and even those that did comprised a rather small share of the literature. Finally, we extracted phrases pertaining to public policy in this reduced dataset, but found limited mention of terms related to the policy process, policy design, or policy evaluation.

Discussion: While to some extent this might reflect the multidisciplinary nature of the research on energy access, a manual review of the abstracts of select publications corroborated this finding. Also, it shed light on how the literature has engaged with public policy and helped identify opportunities for broadening and deepening policy relevant research on energy access. We conclude that, despite their relevance to energy access, public policy perspectives have infrequently and unevenly informed existing research on the topic, and call on scholars in both communities to address this gap in the future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Energy Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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