Using solar and battery power can reduce costs and emissions associated with providing power to refugee camps, researchers have found.
It’s important that work is done to de-risk investing in low-carbon energy infrastructure in humanitarian settings Hamish Beath Researcher, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment
Most refugee camps use diesel generators to power essential services including hospitals, police stations, and lighting. Using diesel to generate power is noisy, expensive, and emits large amounts of damaging greenhouse gases and localised air pollution.
Typically, these generators only power essential camp services. Of the 80 million people displaced globally, it is estimated that only 10% have reliable access to electricity.
Imperial researchers have investigated the supply of electricity to Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda, which is home to 58,000 displaced people from neighbouring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
They found that, by integrating solar and battery capacity in conjunction with the existing diesel generators to create a hybrid ‘mini-grid’, fuel expenditure and emissions could be drastically reduced. The system could also allow more people to access electricity, boosting the local economy.
The infrastructure was constructed by Rwandan mini-grid company MeshPower and funded in part by a grant from the UKRI Global Challenges and Research Fund obtained by Imperial. The research is published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.
Improving and opening up the system
The team found that over five years, the system could reduce expenditure on fuel by $41,500 and emissions by 44 tonnes of carbon. This represents a 74% reduction. Additional reductions could be achieved through improving the way the system is operated.
The research also explored the possibility of connecting refugee businesses to the system. The team collaborated with researchers from Strathmore University in Kenya to investigate the types of businesses present in the camp and find out about their power requirements.
The researchers found that it is possible some businesses could use the excess solar power produced during the day, which would allow for economic activity without placing much additional strain on the system.
Researcher Hamish Beath, from the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial, said: “Working to address the dual challenges of poor access and wastage has been very interesting.
“It’s important that work is done to de-risk investing in low-carbon energy infrastructure in humanitarian settings so that displaced people can have the benefits of clean energy that can allow them to live a better quality of life.”
‘Maximising the benefits of renewable energy infrastructure in displacement settings: Optimising the operation of a solar-hybrid mini-grid for institutional and business users in Mahama Refugee Camp, Rwanda’ by Hamish Beath, Javier Baranda Alonso, Richard Mori, Ajay Gambhir, Jenny Nelson and Philip Sandwell is published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.
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