Practitioner and Educational tools
This briefing paper highlights the potential benefits of humanitarian decision-making tools through the application of the Renewable Energy Recommendation Tool (RERT), a decision support tool developed as part of the EPSRC-funded Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project led by Coventry University in partnership with Practical Action and Scene Connect. HEED draws upon social science and engineering expertise to better understand energy needs and identify solutions that produce socio-technical systems that encourage community resilience and capacity building.
Cite: Nixon, J.D., Koppelaar, R.H.E.M., Robinson, S. and Crawley, H. 2021. Humanitarian energy interventions: the need and opportunities for systematic decision-making. Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) Project, Coventry University. DOI. 10.18552/HEED/2021/0001
Humanitarian Energy Interventions: The Need and Opportunities for Systematic Decision-making
1. Access to energy in contexts of displacement
Access to energy is vital in enabling refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency and social integration.  In the context of displacement, access to energy delivers multiple benefits: it saves lives, protects vulnerable groups and promotes human dignity, all of which are core ethical elements of the Humanitarian assistance and Spheres Standard.  In addition to enhancing the quality of everyday life, access to energy improves refugees and other displaced populations wellbeing through powering infrastructure services (medical and educational facilities), treating water and providing light. Indeed access to energy underpins all but the most rudimentary ventures that allow people to survive in context of displacement. 
Despite this, access to energy has typically been neglected by international and humanitarian organisations responsible for emergency provision and long-term support to refugees. This is partly a result of the emphasis on meeting immediate emergency needs, but also reflects difficulties associated with longer-term planning within the humanitarian sector, much of which is focused on immediate humanitarian needs including protection, housing, water, food and health. This has led to the neglect of energy as a strategic priority area, restricting funding opportunities, and impairing energy programme prioritization and coordination.  Critically there is a need for research to inform and guide decision-making, as there is a lack of data and evidence to inform practitioners. 
2. Energy decision making in refugee camps
Improved decision making in the energy sector has become an important and widely researched area to future-proof and ensure sustainable operations and developments. There are now a plethora of examples of analytical decision tools and methods being developed and applied for suitable project planning, informing investments and policy, operating networks, site and technology selection and system design and integration.  However, research and applications of energy decision making in the context of protracted and displaced settlements remains almost completely unexplored. 
Energy decision making involves evaluating numerous social, technical, environmental and economic criteria. There may not be good information available regarding the energy needs, interests and aspirations of different communities. Different stakeholders and decision makers can sometimes have conflicting objectives, which need to be considered and balanced. In the context of energy planning and decision making in refugee camps, there are additional complexities and challenges that have to be taken into account including a reluctance on the part of policy makers and others (for example, neighbouring communities) in some contexts to acknowledge the permancy of camps or settlements hosing refugees or other displaced populations . This further increases the difficulty of managing and making appropriate long-term decisions. In this context, decision support tools can provide a more systematic method to decision making which allows a more objective assessment of the factors that should inform energy provision in contexts of displacement.
The need for greater objectivity and transparency in relation to energy provision for those living in camps is reflected, and reinforced by, changes in the use of data in displacement contexts. The humanitarian sector is going through a major shift in the way that it treats data, with a greater focus on the collection, management, analysis and sharing of data to inform collective responses in humanitarian settings.  Significant actors within the humanitarian sector around the world (e.g., UNHCR, Red Cross, Ikea Foundation) have argued for consistent approaches to energy interventions. In this context the need for systematic tools for energy decision making in refugee camps is particularly strong. 
This briefing paper highlights the potential benefits of humanitarian decision-making tools through the application of a decision support tool developed as part of the EPSRC-funded Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project led by Coventry University in partnership with Practical Action and Scene Connect. HEED draws upon social science and engineering expertise to better understand energy needs and identify solutions which produce socio-technical systems that encourage community resilience and capacity building. The project focuses on the energy experiences, needs and aspirations of Congolese refugees living for protracted periods of time in Rwanda and internally displaced persons (IDPs) forced to leave their homes as a result of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. 
3. The Renewable Energy Recommendation Tool
The Renewable Energy Recommendation (RERT) tool was built by Scene Connect with support from Coventry University and Practical Action between June 2018 and April 2019. The aim was to provide technology recommendations based on different criteria selection targets to increase energy access in refugee camps and improve sustainability for:
- Cooking energy
- Household lighting and electricity
- Camp/communal lighting and electricity
Users of the tool engage with an Excel-based spreadsheet model and answer questions to describe the situation of a refugee camp (e.g. location, population, infrastructure, etc.) and levels of energy access. Within the tool, users can then specify performance targets and a desired energy access level based on the World Bank’s Multi-tier Framework for assessing levels of energy access for household electricity, cooking, heating and community facilities. There are advanced options within the tool to enable specific technical data to be modified for a wide range of alternative renewable energy options. RERT then scores and ranks alternative technologies based on how they perform against a number of techno-economic performance criteria.
The RERT’s intended use is for “non-emergency” humanitarian situations, including:
- Recently established refugee camps (after 6 months – 1 year) to assess early options for energy infrastructure improvements
- Long established camps (over 1 year) to address existing camp energy infrastructure and design long-term, economically viable and impactful energy interventions
- Within other humanitarian settings (e.g. IDPs within a specific area but not considered a refugee camp) or within host community settlements
The application and functionality of the RERT tool is demonstrated for two cookstove selection case studies in: i) Kigeme refugee camp, Rwanda, and ii) Kebribeyah refugee camp, Ethiopia. The camps are introduced along with the RERT input data. The criteria that the tool considers for cookstove selection are outlined and the current baseline energy access cooking situation is established for each camp. A number of technology alternatives are proposed and the RERT tool considers the performance of each against selection criteria to arrive at recommended alternatives for a specific energy access target.
4.1 Decision criteria
Cooking solutions involve a combination of a cookstove technology and a fuel type. Cookstove selection problems typically focus around evaluating technological performance and usability criteria; potential criteria to consider when selecting a cookstove for an energy intervention are summarised in Table 1. The RERT tool considers ten performance criteria and the energy access tier (see Table 2)
Table 1: Potential criteria to consider when selecting a cookstove for an energy intervention.
|Economic||Cooking energy expenditure (includes fuel cost, useful life, energy conversion efficiency), investment cost, operating and maintenance cost, available subsidy, interest rate, energy conservation cost, carbon dioxide (CO2) and black carbon abatement cost|
|Technical/Commercial||Fuel consumption, cooking time, efficiency, quality, sophistication level, size/weight, durability, need for tracking, nutrition value of the food, improvement in models, spares and after-sales service, distribution network, market research, need for user training, installation and adoption efficiency|
|Environmental||CO2 emissions, fossil fuel depletion and other hazardous environmental impacts|
|Social/Health/Usability||Particulate matter emissions, fuel savings, charcoal production, heat conservation, food taste, transportability, easiness of use, cooking speed, hygiene, safety, and adaptability to cooking practices, aesthetics, continuity of use or need for an extra cooking system, exposure to CO concentration, impact on quality of life|
Table 2: RERT selection criteria for cookstove selection.
|Cookstove Selection Criteria||Unit|
|Energy Access Tier a||–|
|Camp – Investment cost for cooking intervention||US$|
|Camp – Total Cooking Fuel Cost||US$|
|Camp – Carbon Dioxide emissions per year||Tonnes|
|Camp – Annual area at risk from deforestation for wood fuel use||km2|
|Camp – Area used for providing wood fuel from plantations||km2|
|Household – Affordability of Cooking Fuel||Very low to Very High|
|Household – Monthly Cooking Fuel Cost||US$|
|Household – Cost of purchasing cooking stove||US$|
|Household – Carbon Dioxide emissions per family per year||Tonnes|
|Household – Health risk associated with cooking||Very low to Very High|
a Global Tracking Multi-tier Framework for energy access (Bhatia and Angelou, 2015).
To achieve a specific energy access tier, a combined cookstove and fuel type cannot exceed certain threshold performance values for fuel acquisition, meal preparation, PM emissions and CO exposure. These threshold values specified in Table 3 are drawn from the Multi-tier Framework for energy access  and Clean Cooking Alliance  hosted ISO-International Workshop Agreement (ISO-IWA) on cookstove performance targets.
Table 3: Energy access tier requirement for cooking set in RERT.
|Energy Tier||Fuel acquisition and preparation time (hours per week)||Stove preparation time per meal (min)||PM 2.5 (µg/m3)||CO exposure (mg/m3)||Efficiency (%)|
|Tier 1||< 7||< 15||≤ 800||≤ 35||<15|
|Tier 2||< 4||< 10||≤ 400||≤ 25||<25|
|Tier 3||< 1.5||< 5||≤ 170||≤ 18||<35|
4.2 Cookstove technology alternatives
Tier 2 and 3 cooking solutions considered by the RERT tool are shown in Figure 1 and performance specifications are provided in Table 4.
|Metal ICS side-feeder (charcoal)||Ceramic cookstove (firewood/charcoal)||Metal ICS batch-loaded (Firewood/Charcoal)||Kerosene stove|
|Gasifier stove (Mimi Moto)||Ethanol stove||LPG/Biogas stove||Electric cookstove|
Figure 1: Alternative cookstove options modelled by the RERT tool.
Table 4: Cookstove performance specifications 
|Stove||Fuel||Eff.||Indoor emissions CO (g/min)||Indoor emissions PM2.5 (mg/min)||Utilisation rate||Average daily stove use (hours)|
|Improve stove from metal fuelled with side feeder||Wood||18%||0.795||28.50||0.80||2.50|
|Improve stove from metal fuelled with side feeder||Charcoal||18%||0.795||28.50||0.80||2.50|
|Improve stove from metal that is batch loaded||Wood||25%||0.58||35.00||0.80||2.50|
|Improve stove from metal that is batch loaded||Charcoal||40%||0.455||5||0.80||2.50|
|Gasifier Stove built for burning pellets||Pellets||40%||0.455||5||0.80||2.50|
|Cook stove for ethanol / kerosene combustion||Ethanol||45%||0.35||1||0.80||2.50|
|Cook stove for ethanol / kerosene combustion||Kerosene||45%||0.35||1||0.80||2.50|
|Cook stove burnt for gas burning (LPG, biogas)||LPG||35%||0.48||7||0.80||2.50|
|Cook stove burnt for gas burning (LPG, biogas)||Biogas||35%||0.48||7||0.80||2.50|
|Modern Cook Stoves – Induction Electric Cooker||Electricity||73%||0.00||0||0.80||2.50|
5. Case studies
5.1 Case study 1: Cookstove selection in Kigeme refugee camp, Rwanda
Kigeme refugee camp is in Nyamagabe district, Rwanda, and is home to over 21,000 residents. A number of programmes to improve energy access have been recently undertaken in Kigeme. One of these programmes involved the introduction of improved cookstoves, with refugees having the option to buy fuel (pellets) using their cash allowance. The improved cookstove solution scheme was delivered in the camp by a Rwandan private sector social enterprise, Inyenyeri, who produce environmentally sustainable fuel burning pellets and lease clean and highly efficient cook stoves to residents. Model input data was collected in 2018/19 from camp officials, United Nations Humanitarian staff and members of the community via surveys  (see Table 5).
Table 5: RERT questionnaire input data for Kigeme refugee camp.
|Camp geography and demographics|
|Number of families||4000||–|
|% of HH operating business from home||8%||%|
|Distance between HH||6-12||m|
|Camp area per person||30-34||m2|
|Vacant space inside camp for energy installations||100||Family HH equivalent|
|Primary source for wood fuel||Forest|
|Vacant space outside camp for energy installations||Little space|
|Use of traditional 3-stone cookstove||4/10||Families|
|– Firewood fuel||9/10||Families|
|– Charcoal fuel||1/10||Families|
|Use of clay cookstoves||2/10||Families|
|– Firewood fuel||6/10||Families|
|– Charcoal fuel||4/10||Families|
|Use of efficient cookstoves||4/10||Families|
|Population in low income bracket (approx.. US$26/month)||70||%|
|Population in low income bracket (approx.. US$66/month)||20||%|
|Population in low income bracket (approx.. US$178/month)||10||%|
For cooking, the RERT tool establishes the current baseline situation. The monthly total fuel expenditure for cooking in Kigeme was estimated to be around 1.7 million RWF (~1,700 USD). The annual CO2 emissions for the camp were estimated to be 6,939 tonnes for cooking. The utilisation of wood-fuel without provisioning of such fuels in a sustainable manner is evaluated by RERT to be associated with a forest area of 0.23 km2 that is at annual risk of deforestation, given biomass needs to supply cooking fuels for all the 4,000 families in the camp. Finally, health risks due to stove usage are still high given the prominence of three-stone cookstoves and, to a lesser extent, fired clay (ceramic) stoves.
The RERT tool assessed sixteen different cooking solutions to identify the best options to achieve tier 3 for cookstove energy access in Kigeme refugee camp. Three high performing cookstoves to increase energy access for cooking to tier 3 are cookstoves using either LPG, biogas or ethanol (see Table 6).
Table 6: Top performing cookstoves for Kigeme refugee camp to achieve tier 3 energy access for cooking.
|Indicator||Unit||Current Situation||Cookstove with LPG supply||Cookstove with biogas supply||Cookstove with ethanol|
|Camp – Investment cost for cooking interventions||Franc (RWF)||5,463,808||10,383,965||10,383,965||15,324,723|
|Camp – Total Cooking Fuel Cost||Franc (RWF)||1,708,855||8,457,777||0||1,179,384|
|Camp – Carbon Dioxide emissions per year||tonnes||6,939||1,632||2,462||1,502|
|Camp – Annual area at risk from deforestation for wood fuel use||km2||0.232||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Camp – Area used for providing wood fuel from plantations||km2||0.005||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Household – Affordability of Cooking Fuel||Very low to Very High||Very low||Very low||Very low||Very low|
|Household – Monthly Cooking Fuel Cost||Franc (RWF)||427||2,114||0||295|
|Household – Cost of purchasing cooking stove||Franc (RWF)||1,366||2,596||2,596||3,831|
|Household – Carbon Dioxide emissions per family per year||tonnes||2.01||0.41||0.62||0.38|
|Household – Health risk associated with cooking||Very low to Very High||High||Low||Low||Very low|
Whilst the results are highly dependent on the model inputs and assumptions, such as fuel cost and availability, the performance of all cookstove options can be easily compared. The tool thus allows decision makers to assess acceptable costs directly alongside potential social and environmental impacts. To arrive at more suitable recommendations, targets need to be specified in RERT, e.g. to avoid a solution being recommended that is too expensive or unavailable.
5.2 Case study 2: Kebribeyah refugee camp, Ethiopia
Kebribeyah camp was established in 1991 for Somali refugees fleeing the civil war in their country and currently has a population of 14,685 displaced people.  The camp is not organized, and the refugee housing is mixed with that of the host community. Since the refugee households are located along with those of the host communities, individuals of the host community extend their grid lines and provide electricity supply for a fee. Households cook using a three-stone fire or a traditional charcoal stove. Table 7 shows the RERT model input data, which was provided by MercyCorp, an NGO that that carried out an energy access assessment of refugee camps in Jijiga, Ethiopia, in 2020. This information is not currently publicly available; more details on MercyCorp’s work in humanitarian energy can be found here. 
Table 7: RERT questionnaire input data for Kebri Beyah Refugee Camp.
|Camp geography and demographics|
|Number of families||7769||–|
|% of HH operating business from home||5||%|
|Distance between HH||6-12||m|
|Camp area per person||35-44||m2|
|Vacant space inside camp for energy installations||None||Family HH equivalent|
|Primary source for wood fuel/land outside camp||Shrubland|
|Vacant space outside camp for energy installations||Lots of space|
|Use of traditional 3-stone cookstove||7||Families|
|– Firewood fuel||7||Families|
|– Charcoal fuel||3||Families|
|Use of clay cookstoves||3||Families|
|– Firewood fuel||0||Families|
|– Charcoal fuel||10||Families|
|Use of efficient cookstoves||0||Families|
|Population in low income bracket (approx.. US$26/month)||10||%|
|Population in low income bracket (approx.. US$66/month)||70||%|
|Population in low income bracket (approx.. US$178/month)||20||%|
5.2.1 Energy access targets
Using the scenario builder functionality within the RERT tool, energy access targets can be specified. The current baseline situation and the desired situation for Kebribeyah Refugee Camp is shown in Table 8. The current cooking energy access tier in Kebribeyah was determined to between tier 0 and 1, with most of camp residents surveyed using firewood or charcoal in basic 3-stone fires and charcoal stoves. Only 4% of residents used kerosene stoves for cooking.
Table 8: Baseline and selection criteria targets for cooking in Kebribeyah Refugee Camp
|Decision criteria||Target||Current Situation|
|Energy Access Tier||–||2||0.3|
|Camp – Investment cost for cooking interventions (max threshold)||ETB||101,710||10,687|
|Camp – Total Cooking Fuel Cost (max threshold)||ETB/month||20,342||68,181|
|Camp – Carbon Dioxide emissions per year (max threshold)||tonnes/year||3,500||16,129|
|Camp – Annual area at risk from deforestation for woodfuel use (max threshold)||km2/year||1||7.273|
|Camp – Area used for providing woodfuel from plantations (max threshold)||km2||0.02||0.010|
|Household – Affordability of Cooking Fuel||–||Medium||Very low|
|Household – Monthly Cooking Fuel Cost (max threshold)||ETB/month||15||9|
|Household – Cost of purchasing cooking stove (max threshold)||ETB||50||1|
|Household – Carbon Dioxide emissions per family per year (max threshold)||tonnes/year||2.00||2.21|
|Household – Health risk associated with cooking||–||Medium||Very high|
To achieve energy access tier 2, the RERT recommends fired clay wood/charcoal stoves or, with significantly more investment, improved wood fuel stoves. The top 3 solutions based on the number of targets met and achieving tier 2 are shown in Table 9.
A fire clay stove would achieve five out of ten targets whereas wood fuel stoves would only meet three. Implementation of fired clay stoves would reduce monthly cooking costs (51 – 66% across the camp), carbon emissions (53 – 67%) and health risks from very high to high. Improved cookstoves offer similar benefits at a much higher investment cost and lower household affordability. The implementation of improved cookstoves would be dependent on the final product specification and support (i.e. funding, grants) available for implementation. The RERT tool could not find a technology alternative that would fulfil all the criteria selection targets (see tables 2 and 3).
Table 9: Top performing cookstoves for Kebribeyah refugee camp to achieve tier 2 energy access for cooking based on specific criteria selection targets.
|Indicator||Unit||Fire clay cookstove (ceramic) with woodfuel||Fire clay cookstove (ceramic) with charcoal||Improved metal batch loaded stove with woodfuel|
|Camp – Investment cost for cooking interventions||birr (ETB)||42,780||42,780||395,092|
|Camp – Total Cooking Fuel Cost||birr (ETB)||23,434||33,494||23,434|
|Camp – Carbon Dioxide emissions per year||tonnes||7,656||5,269||7,656|
|Camp – Annual area at risk from deforestation for wood fuel use||km2||2.49||7.11||2.49|
|Camp – Area used for providing wood fuel from plantations||km2||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Household – Affordability of Cooking Fuel||Very low to Very High||Very low||Very low||Very low|
|Household – Monthly Cooking Fuel Cost||birr (ETB)||3||4||3|
|Household – Cost of purchasing cooking stove||birr (ETB)||6||6||51|
|Household – Carbon Dioxide emissions per family per year||tonnes||0.99||0.68||0.99|
|Household – Health risk associated with cooking||Very low to Very High||High||High||High|
The RERT tool demonstrates how technology alternatives can be quickly compared for humanitarian applications by considering a range of different techno-socioeconomic criteria and the level of energy access that could be achieved. Different criteria selection targets and energy access levels can be easily chosen to evaluate a range of different scenarios for specific refugee camps. However, the RERT tool is currently limited to ten criteria and there are many more which could have been included (e.g. maintenance cost, ease of use, adaptability to cooking practices), which may have changed the recommendations. The inclusion or exclusion of relevant and irrelevant criteria, and the impact on recommendations made or ranking of alternatives is a well-known problem in decision making. There are also many interdependencies between selection criteria which could affect the decisions being made. This is a particular problem in complex humanitarian settings. These factors, therefore, need to be carefully considered when researching, developing and applying humanitarian decision making tools.
The RERT tool only shows the deviation from criteria selection targets and ranks alternatives based on how many targets have been met. Multi-criteria decision-making techniques could be implemented as the next step to provide a systematic method to ranking the performance of technological alternatives. For example, methods such as the Analytical Hierarchy Process rank the alternatives based on criteria weightings, whereas Topsis ranks alternatives based on the criteria deviations from an ideal solution. Further research would be needed to investigate how different stakeholder criteria weightings and ranking methods could change the recommendations being made for improving energy access in humanitarian settings.
It is important to note that the tool is designed as a first high-level feasibility assessment, often using data which has already been collected (e.g., through research projects or by camp authorities). The tool would be utilised by in-country/in-camp energy advisors, providing a first step towards supporting humanitarian energy decision-making for cooking and electricity interventions. Whilst decision-making tools, like RERT, may not be enough for arriving at successful and sustainable energy interventions, they will help users to understand locally relevant and appropriate technologies, which will lead to better designed feasibility studies and, in turn, more impactful energy interventions.
The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) for funding the Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (EP/P029531/1). The authors would like to acknowledge and thank project delivery partners Practical Action and Scene Connect for their significant role in co-ordinating in-camp activities and providing technical inputs and tools. We would also like to recognise the support of MIDIMAR (Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the contributions of the Global Plan of Action, Chatham House, and the RE4R (Renewable Energy for Refugees) Project (a partnership between Practical Action and UNHCR, supported by the IKEA Foundation)
We would like to acknowledge Tamunosa Jamaica contributions to the literature review and give particular thanks to Rembrandt Koppelaar for developing the RERT tool.
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