Planning sustainable electricity solutions for refugee settlements in sub-Saharan Africa

Duccio Baldi, Magda Moner-Girona, Elena Fumagalli, and Fernando Fahl

Nature Energy, Volume 7 (2022), Pages 369–379


This paper examines the electricity needs, potential technical solutions and associated costs for almost 300 refugee settlements in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that around 80 percent of refugees in camps burn biomass such as firewood for cooking and around 90 percent have limited or no access to electricity.  

Detailed data collected for this study were compiled in the publicly available Refugee Settlements Electricity Access Database (RSEA DB) including: environmental data for each settlement (such as variability of solar radiation and avoided greenhouse gas emissions), technical factors (electrification status, distance to grid), social context and energy needs (population, electricity demand, social infrastructure), and economic factors (PV mini-grid component prices, discount factors, operation and maintenance costs). Data was collected from national statistical offices, government agencies, international organizations, satellite imagery, crowdsourced data, and interviews with relevant experts. Estimates of electricity demand and daily load profiles for various end-users (households, businesses, institutions) were based on primary data collection in Kalobeyei refugee settlement in Kenya.  

Estimates cover 288 refugee settlements (203 refugee sites, 18 of which include more than one settlement) in 23 countries. The solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery sizes were optimized per settlement based on site conditions and requirements in each settlement. 

Main findings:  

  • The total annual electricity demand (total annual demand of all settlements) is estimated to be 154 GWh. 
  • The total solar PV mini-grid capacity to be installed is estimated to be 247 MWp (including 699 MWh of battery storage). 
  • The total avoided greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are 2.86 MtCO2e over a lifetime of 20 years (0.14 MtCO2e avoided per year).  
  • The total estimated up-front cost required to provide electricity to the 288 settlements is US$1.34 billion. 

The authors conclude that decentralized energy systems can potentially offer a fast, reliable, and sustainable way to increase access to electricity in refugee settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa. The RSEA DB and the associated web tool can support humanitarian and development organizations to deliver sustainable energy solutions on a large scale. 


Big Data | Technology