Refugee camps in crisis areas depend on energy for powering the public infrastructure (including medical facilities), refugee households (for cooking, washing, heating), and for the needs of small enterprises. An average camp hosting around 20,000 people needs up to 20 megawatt hours of energy per day. This is roughly the same amount as is used by the energy-related infrastructure of a small town. Most refugee camps, however, are located in remote areas at the periphery of their country, and are not connected to the local grid. This is why virtually of the electricity used in camps like these – if there is any electricity at all – comes from expensive and environmentally harmful diesel generators. And these camps tend to operate for a long time, with the average one closing after 17 years, and some a lot longer.
Save on electricity bills and spend money more wisely
There are much more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective ways of powering up refugee camps. A study commissioned by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has found that some 323 million US dollars could be saved in fuel costs, simply by replacing inefficient cooking stoves with better ones and by switching to solar lamps. This money could then be used for other humanitarian purposes, notably to improve the lives of the people living in refugee camps. As an added benefit to this, these measures would also cut carbon emissions by some 7 million tonnes.
This is why the UNHCR and Chatham House have formed a joint initiative to promote a sustainable energy supply for refugee camps, which is to be based upon a high share of renewables in the energy mix and energy efficiency standards twice as high as the current ones. Very often, the geography of the camps is favourable to renewables, with many camps located in sunny areas where hybrid installations (PV installations with back-up diesel generators) are the method of choice for electricity generation.
A fresh campaign for renewables in refugee camps
In mid-January, representatives of UNHCR, UNITAR, the UN Foundation, the International Organization for Migrants (IOM) and of GIZ came together in Berlin for an international conference that took place under the motto “Energy for Displaced People: A Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement”. Participants had set themselves the task of preparing a strategic plan for action as to how the various challenges, ranging from cooking to recharging mobile phones to setting up much bigger electricity installations, could be addressed. A number of small working groups were established at the conference. They now have until June 2018 to draft a roadmap complete with specific projects and timelines.
German Energy Solutions Initiative supports quest for energy solutions
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy supports the initiative for sustainable energy solutions for displaced people as part of its German Energy Solutions Initiative. The ministry has had the energy needs of refugee camps analysed and fields for action outlined (; in German only). Furthermore, 65 German companies capable of delivering suitable energy solutions for refugee camps have been identified. This was done in response to work conducted by GIZ, which showed that there already are technical solutions that are both reliable and economically viable and which could be used in refugee camps. These include battery storage containers, distributed water and electricity stations, mobile solar installations, and solar home systems solutions. These technologies were presented by German companies at an event organised by the Ministry and coinciding with the international conference mentioned above (for further information in German, ).