Many refugees live in camps where energy access for basic needs is a challenge because the camps are off-grid or the connection to the national grid does not fully cover their energy needs.
Some of the most common challenges in off-grid or poorly powered refugee camps are listed below:
- Diesel generators require a relatively low initial investment but, when compared to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or micro hydro power, they represent a higher average cost per energy unit in the long term. Although the initial investment in diesel systems is usually low, diesel generators require regular purchase of fuel and constant maintenance, e.g. oil and filter changes. Using renewable energy sources thus provides an obvious environmental advantage in terms of carbon footprint reduction.
- In off-grid refugee camps, diesel generators are used to provide energy for community facilities run by camp management, e.g. schools, medical centres and street lighting. Refugees, meanwhile, use firewood for domestic tasks such as cooking, lighting and heating.
- Many off-grid refugee camps are also situated in countries with hot climates where the solar energy is fairly abundant. In countries within the so-called “sunbelt” (between the 35º N and 35º S parallels) the potential of using solar photovoltaic energy in refugee camps is high.
- The use of firewood in refugee households has strong cross-cutting impacts on the environment (environmental degradation of camp surroundings), refugee health (respiratory problems), the relationship between the host community and the displaced population (competition for natural resources) and gender-related issues (collecting firewood is typically a task for women and girls who are often harassed or attacked while collecting firewood).
- Even when electricity is partially available challenges still arise because power supply is irregular and unpredictable. Electrical wiring is often poorly installed and maintained, and the refugee population is thus exposed to an increased risk of electrical shocks.