Why should renewable energies be brought to refugee camps

82.4 million people are on the run around the world. Of these, 86% are hosted in refugee camps located largely in developing countries.

If we want to look refugees As a society, albeit geographically fragmented, we must ask ourselves a problem How to make their living conditions dignified. Of course, access to basic commodities such as energy, water and food plays a strategic role.

Contrary to what happens in industrialized countries, Energy transition to renewable sources This will greatly improve the quality of life for these millions of people, rather than just improving their ecological footprint, while also mitigating the environmental and health impact of burning biomass in certainly not ideal conditions.

About 80% of the population residing in refugee camps burn biomass for cooking and that 90% have limited or no access to electricity.

But who are these people, who are they and how can the features of their consumption be estimated in order to arrive at an energy and economic planning that encourages adequate investments in their favour?

It is not known how many refugee camps there are in the world. Only some of these are directly managed by the UN through its various organizations (UNHCR, UNRWA, OCHA, etc.) but thanks to a recently published study titled “Planning sustainable electricity solutions for refugee settlements in sub-Saharan Africa (at the bottom of the article) You would have had a first database.

Demand for renewable energy in refugee camps in sub-Saharan Africa

The Database of Access to Electricity in Refugee Settlements (RSEA DB, interactively accessible from the CEA Tool) contains detailed and curated information on electricity needs, potential technical solutions and associated costs for bringing renewable energy to 288 refugee camps in sub-Saharan Africa.

Duccio Baldi, researcher and co-author of the study, took an interest in collecting data in order to identify consumption profiles. Thus, the total demand for electricity in these fields was roughly estimated 154 GWh every year.

Baldy explains: “It is not a simple estimate at all – as Baldy explains – if we consider that the settlement never represents other refugee settlements in Africa. Moreover, people fleeing from different periods, who are or are not allowed to work, have different levels of Income or background, while also referring to energy use, they can have a very diverse demand for energy services.”

154 GWh/year calculated to ensure at least lighting, indoor ventilation, phone charging and TV power supply 1.15 million families (power demand is 200W / day), but also to meet the approximate demand 59 thousand micro-enterprises and about 7 thousand institutional loads.

For a term for comparison, also in terms of the ecological footprint, a person considered is roughly a population 5 million peopleequals the population of new Zeland Which was its energy demand in 2020 39 TWhthat is 150 times higher.

What are the solutions?

To provide achievable renewable energy Photovoltaic systems connected to small grids. About 50% of the refugee camps surveyed are located within an average distance of more than 10 km from the power grid, with distances ranging from 1 to 747 km. Moreover, most of the fields are located in very favorable regions in terms of irradiation: about 2,200 kWh/m2 versus 1,600 in the Mediterranean region for example.

The total rated PV required will be approx 247 MW can also power 699 MW Storage Systems (In 20 years they will avoid 2.9 million tons of CO2 emissions.)

The cost of obtaining energy

Thanks to cooperation with the company that built a small network in the settlement of Kalobiye (Kenya), where the data was collected, the researchers were able to estimate $1.34 billion Total cost of making Plants and microgrids at 288 sites considered.

Baldi tells us that the initial investment for this fully renewable solution is higher than that of alternative hybrid solutions, which also include a share of the energy produced by diesel generators. But at the same time, many studies have shown that the economic profitability of photovoltaic cells alone is greater than the economic profitability of diesel alone.”

“It is somewhat difficult to make accurate comparisons of energy cost in various scenarios – adds Baldy – where there is no information available on current and future energy expenditures, household income and service quality, to name a few.”

study used Electricity demand for each household It shows that there is a roughly linear relationship between average consumption per household and initial investment.

“Combining the results of the study and recent estimates for refugee camps in Rwanda – Baldy explains – that the monthly cost per household for a reliable, renewable electricity service would be about twice the current spending on candles and light bulbs, which would affect about 4% of the average household income.”

Social and economic benefits also to host communities

Theoretically, refugee camps should be a temporary solution to the problem of humanitarian migration, and for this reason they are initially equipped with minimal infrastructure, functional to ensure the basic needs of the refugees as well as the needs of the organizations running the camps. However, in practice, these camps often become stable, along with the people who live there.

UNHCR now speaks of “settlements” rather than “camps”, confirming the notion of now stable conditions, as two or three generations were born and lived in these settlements with refugee status.

L ‘Access to sustainable and reliable energy In contexts of displacement, it is receiving increasing attention as a basic human need and an enabling factor for the long-term development of not only refugee populations but also host communities.

Availability of a good database of geo-referenced data, as seen in a previous study by Politecnico di Milano (How to design a remote and low-cost electrical distribution network in developing countries), made it possible to verify that many refugee settlements are located in areas where not even the local communities themselves have access to electricity.

By analyzing the distribution of the local population without access to electricity and the boundaries of the camps, it becomes possible to obtain indications of where it is necessary to provide power to the refugees with the local population, and possibly Promote the integration of millions of people Now settled in host countries, even if they lack citizenship rights.

“The presence of a solar-powered micro-grid in Kalobeyei settlement – concludes Balde – has increased the number of informal businesses run by refugees and host communities: cold drink vendors, phone charging points, hairdressers and many other businesses. It even led to the opening of a bank branch. local within the settlement.

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