You are here:

Moving Energy Initiative brings clean energy and improves livelihoods for Kakuma refugees


Accessing clean, safe and affordable energy is a persistent problem for refugees. The Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) – a partnership between Energy 4 Impact, Chatham House, Practical Action, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UNHCR – is pioneering private sector involvement and market-oriented initiatives to improve energy access and the livelihoods of both refugees and host communities.

The Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya, home to 185,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, including South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, is in a region where only 2.7 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Many refugees do not have any lighting, often relying on firewood for cooking, which can cause health problems. Leaving the camp in search of firewood may compromise the personal safety of women and girls. The schools, healthcare centres, businesses and local facilities associated with the camp also struggle to access inexpensive and sustainable energy.

Refugees could make a significant socio-economic contribution to host communities. However their energy needs are often overlooked by agencies and investors due to their transience and uncertainties around their relocation from the camps. Extending electricity coverage to refugee camps or surrounding areas is therefore often slow. The camps tend to be far from major economic areas, making them unattractive to investors. Furthermore, some well-intended donor-funded approaches which focus on handouts to refugees are ineffective and unsustainable, undermining attempts to introduce viable markets.

The MEI is tackling these challenges in Kenya, Burkina Faso and Jordan by actively encouraging private sector low carbon projects which create local market-based solutions for energy access, generate livelihood opportunities, and reduce dependency on handouts.

We are challenging the handout approach by ensuring our low carbon and market development projects are sustainable financially and in terms of local ownership.

says Joe Attwood, Programme Manager, Moving Energy Initiative.

We are also hoping to reduce the hostilities between refugees and host communities which can arise over competition for scarce fuels and resources.

The MEI has commissioned a series of projects to test its model of private sector engagement. A partnership with BBOXX, a venture-backed company developing solutions to provide affordable, clean energy to off-grid communities, has set up a distribution outlet for the sale of solar home systems (SHS) in and outside Kakuma. Additionally, BBOXX and Energy 4 Impact have lined up consumer awareness activities to educate refugees and host communities on the benefits of solar products. By helping them set up enterprises such as solar kiosks or service centres, refugees and host communities will be actively involved in clean energy value chains as distributors of energy products such as SHS, solar lanterns and improved cookstoves.

Crown Agents, an international development company, has built a solar-powered ICT and learning hub in the camp, equipped it with low-energy consuming computers, internet access, printers, photocopiers and stationery. At least half of the hub’s users will be women.

The hub will allow children to learn and develop confidence in ICT skills from an early age. It will also give refugees and the host population an opportunity to acquire skills in trades such as leather craft, computer repair, horticulture, weaving, plumbing, carpentry, mechanics and baking.

says Sarah Hare, Senior Practice Specialist, Crown Agents.

Kube Energy, a renewable energy company, is also solarizing two healthcare clinics managed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at Kakuma camp which, among other things, will offer psychological support to vulnerable groups such as survivors of gender-based violence. Running the clinics on solar is expected to cut IRC’s diesel fuel consumption and operational costs by 80 per cent. These savings, estimated at US$63,000 annually, will be redirected to expanding existing healthcare programmes, including the purchase of x-ray equipment for hospitals and the installation of refrigerators to help keep vaccines cool.

Our aim is that the success of these pioneering initiatives will inspire more private sector organisations to scale up cost-effective and sustainable energy solutions for refugees and host communities. And we hope to improve their livelihoods by actively involving them in the adoption, distribution and maintenance of renewable energy products, as well as other income generating skills.

explains Joe Attwood.