Transforming clean energy access for refugees: from aid-based to market-based

Transforming clean energy access for refugees: from aid-based to market-based

79.5 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced people due to war, conflict or disaster, of which 26 million are refugees.  Around 10% of refugees live in camps in which humanitarian agencies ensure basic needs and services.

Many refugee camps have been in place for several decades. Refugee camps are typically established to serve as a temporary place of shelter, until it is safe for refugees to return to their place of origin. However, due to ongoing conflicts, human rights violations, but also effects of natural disasters, return to home countries often becomes infeasible.

Refugee camps suffer from infrastructure deficits, compounded by lack of sufficient funding. Camps are established and run as temporary solutions but eventually turn into permanent settlements without adequate infrastructure for sanitation and electricity. At the same time, humanitarian agencies are structurally underfunded.

In this context, the humanitarian sector needs to find innovative approaches to deliver assistance in refugee settlements. Such assistance needs to be aimed at promoting self-reliance of refugees and decreasing the dependency on external funding.

Energy access in Kakuma refugee camp

The EnDev Market Based Energy Access (MBEA) I project is illustrative of such an innovative approach to improve self-reliance among refugees. The project was designed to drive a shift from a humanitarian, donation-based approach to market-based energy access for refugees in Kakuma refugee camp, Kalobeyei integrated settlement, and the surrounding host community. SNV implemented the project from October 2017 to September 2019.

The camp is located in Turkana County in Northern Kenya and was established in 1992 as a result of war in Sudan. Today, the camp hosts 192,000 refugees with new arrivals every day from various conflict zones across the region. UNHCR coordinates provision of basic goods and services, including the distribution of free firewood rations, which covers one-third of households', fuel requirements. The camp is not connected to a formal grid for electricity supply. The lack of energy access leaves most people to rely on lighting and cooking solutions that are typically characterised as expensive and inefficient with adverse effects on health, safety and the environment.

Promising results

The MBEA project was set out to provide clean, safe and affordable cooking and lighting solutions through a market-based approach in Kakuma and Kalobeyei to both the refugee and host community. The project activities were primarily aimed at creating market supply through facilitating market entry and business development activities by suppliers of clean cookstoves and solar lighting systems. In addition, awareness raising and community sensitization activities promoted household demand for these products. Throughout the project, SNV engaged closely with UNHCR, representatives of the local government, the host community and refugee community leaders.

By end 2019, the project had realized the market entry of 12 private sector companies to the camp, facilitating the sales of solar lanterns (2556 units), solar home systems (4322 units), and industrial cookstoves (2005 units) to both the refugee and host community.

In addition, a local Stove Production Unit (SPU) was set up, and commercialised to increase the availability of high quality, affordable, and locally produced artisanal charcoal and wood stoves. The SPU, which was operationalized towards the end of the project, produced and sold 277 stoves and continues operations in the camp.

These sales figures show promising results in transitioning towards market-based models for energy provision in humanitarian settings. Private sector partners have set up shops and engaged local sales agents, committing to a long-term presence in the camp.

However, building a market for clean energy products in the complex environment of a refugee camp and the host community also faces challenges. Lessons learnt and recommendations on market-based access to energy have fed into follow-on activities under the MBEA II project.

Key recommendations

  • All stakeholders must be included and willing to commit to achieving the transition to a market-based model for energy access.

  • Marketing efforts must be complemented with awareness raising and sensitization among households to increase acceptance and adoption of clean energy products.

  • More work needs to be done to attract industrial cookstove suppliers to sell in the camp, alongside a diversification of alternative fuel supply chains.

  • Barriers to access to finance and default risks must be addressed to increase uptake among low income households.

  • Decentralized, local business operations lead to improved customer service and should be expanded further to drive market sustainability.

For more details, read the final report on experiences and lessons learned from the MBEA pilot project with an overview of the project design, activities, results and elaborate lessons learnt and key recommendations.