wall of utility meters

Partnering with the City of Cape Town to inform evidence-based policymaking


In partnership with the City of Cape Town (CCT), South Africa, emLab and collaborators are working on a number of projects at the research-policy interface. CCT maintains active research collaborations with numerous partners, which have helped to identify policy and program strengths and areas for improvement. emLab’s work with CCT includes:

  • Ongoing efforts to develop a more streamlined system for cataloging, accessing, and sharing administrative data with external researchers and with analysts and decision-makers within CCT 
  • Investigating the implementation of prepaid utility metering as a means of consumption smoothing and its impacts on impoverished communities
  • Evaluating innovative policies to recover debts from unpaid billing accounts; understanding the distributional impacts of recovering debts 
  • Examining the determinants of water use before and after Cape Town’s historic drought


We apply micro- and macroeconomic principles and data science techniques, leveraging CCT’s administrative data, in combination with randomized controlled trials to investigate questions at the research-policy interface.

Key findings

The municipal water and electric utilities face tradeoffs between consumption as a source of revenue and conservation objectives. Technological interventions, such as prepaid electricity metering, helps to improve revenue recovery, and lowers consumption, creating a net gain for the electric utility.


The projects described under this stream of work include collaborations with researchers from numerous institutions including: Grant Smith (University of Cape Town), Martine Visser (University of Cape Town), Anja Sautmann (World Bank), Jeff Romine (UCSB), Anders Jensen (Harvard), Jeff Cross (Hamilton College), Andrea Szabo (University of Houston), Sheila Olmstead (UT Austin), and others. They also involve close collaboration with officials in the City of Cape Town.