Leading Innovative Clean Energy Initiatives for Refugees
Energy poverty is a persistent problem for refugees. Isolated from the national grid and lacking reliable access to renewable power, the search for alternative energy is a struggle refugees are often confronted with.
The Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) – a partnership between Energy 4 Impact, Chatham House, Practical Action, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UNHCR – is promoting pioneering approaches that involve private sector players, as well as market-oriented solutions, in order to alleviate this challenge while improving the livelihoods of refugees and host communities.
Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya is home to 185,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, including South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda. The camp is located in a marginalized region where only 2.7 per cent of the population has access to electricity according to the Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project (2015). In the camp, many refugees do not have any form of lighting at night and a reliance on firewood for cooking exposes countless households to health problems. Women and girls in particular face extreme risks when leaving the camp in search of firewood. For schools, healthcare centres, businesses and local facilities, access to inexpensive and sustainable energy sources is also crucial yet it is sorely lacking.
Some of the MEI’s initiatives in Kenya, Burkina Faso and Jordan aim to address these challenges by incorporating the private sector in the implementation of low carbon projects and by helping the reduction of fossil fuel use, while establishing local market-based solutions for energy access and creating energy markets and livelihood opportunities.
Refugees are often ignored yet they are important economic actors with the potential to make a significant socio-economic contribution to host communities. Few organizations working in energy access initiatives pay sufficient attention to the energy needs of refugees due to uncertainties around their relocation from the camp. In addition, refugee camps are normally located in places far from major economic areas, making them unattractive to investors. Governments also have not been proactive enough in extending electricity coverage to refugee camps or surrounding areas. For example, although the Kenyan government plans to install a power line in Kakuma to serve local and camp residents, the process could take a long time. Furthermore, some donor-funded approaches focusing on handouts, while delivered with the best of intentions for enhancing the lives of refugees, have proven ineffective and unsustainable and have undermined attempts to introduce viable markets in refugee settings. The MEI attempts to change this by working with markets and reducing dependency on handouts.
The MEI’s approach also seeks to lessen hostilities between refugees and host communities over competition for scarce fuels and resources. By bringing theory into practice, the initiative has so far commissioned a series of projects to test its model of private sector engagement. For example, a partnership with BBOXX, a private company, has occasioned plans to establish a distribution outlet for the sale of solar home systems (SHS) in and outside Kakuma. Additionally, BBOXX and Energy 4 Impact have lined up consumer awareness activities to educate refugees and host communities on the benefits of solar products. By supporting them to establish enterprises such as solar kiosks or service centres, refugees and host communities will be actively involved in clean energy value chains as distributors of energy products such as SHS, solar lanterns and improved cookstoves.
Other private sector players involved include Crown Agents, which has constructed a solar-powered ICT and learning hub equipped with low-energy consuming computers, internet access, printers, photocopiers and stationery, and where at least half of the hub’s users will be women. Kube Energy is also solarizing two healthcare clinics managed by the International Rescue Committee at Kakuma camp which, among other things, will offer psychological support to vulnerable groups such as survivors of gender-based violence. Once complete, the clinics are expected to cut IRC’s diesel fuel consumption and operational costs by 80 per cent. These savings, estimated at US$63,000 annually, will be redirected to expanding existing healthcare programmes, including the purchase of x-ray equipment for hospitals and the installation of refrigerators to help keep vaccines cool at the facilities.
All of these pioneering initiatives hope to inspire increased private sector participation in scaling up cost-effective and sustainable energy solutions while actively involving refugees and local communities in the adoption, distribution and maintenance of renewable energy products.