A new report from the United Nations states that onsite renewables can cost-effectively supply refugee communities with low-cost, reliable electricity.

There are currently almost 26 million refugees in the world and the study from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), says that unreliable energy exposes them to additional and associated risks which renewables can serve to overcome.

Released at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, the report examines the energy needs at refugee camps and identifies renewables-based solutions for four sites in Iraq and Ethiopia.

Solar mini-grids in particular, are highlighted as being able to boost the efficiency of humanitarian operations, avoid costly diesel consumption, and support recently arrived refugees with immediate, reliable electricity access.

The report was launched as both organisations agreed in a new Memorandum of Understanding to enhance their existing cooperation on promoting renewable energy solutions for the improvement of the humanitarian situation for millions of people displaced from their homes today. 

“In line with our global strategy for sustainable energy, we aim to ensure that refugees can meet their basic energy needs in exile while also minimizing environmental degradation,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

“Sustainable energy access will bridge this gap, enabling refugees to pursue education, supporting businesses and social enterprises, spurring innovation and exponentially enhancing the safety and well-being of people and communities, until such time that they can return home.”

IRENA director-general Francesco La Camera added: “This report and this new partnership between IRENA and UNHCR is the beginning of an important alliance to mainstream access to energy for refugees and displaced people as well as their local communities, ensuring that they are not left behind.” 

“Renewables can quickly and effectively change the lives of refugees for the better. Off-grid and grid connected small and medium sized solar installations are available, affordable and can bring reliable power to millions of displaced people around the world. We are looking forward to closely work and support UNHCR in its effort to protect life in humanitarian situations. Renewable solutions could become essential to the humanitarian toolkit.”

Findings and recommendations of the new report are based on data collected from field missions to the Darashakran and Domiz camps in Iraq and Tsore and Sherkole in Ethiopia. It concludes that in Iraq, blackouts and brownouts remain frequent even at grid-connected settlements, leaving refugees and the humanitarian community dependent on expensive, polluting diesel generators.

In Ethiopia, most refugees lack any reliable access to electric lighting. Stand-alone solar systems with battery banks could cushion the impact of voltage fluctuations on the grid. Larger solar parks could provide electricity in and around settlements, as well as creating an enduring asset for host communities.

Download Renewables for refugee settlements: Sustainable energy access in humanitarian situations