Humanitarian Energy Interventions: The Need and Opportunities for Systematic Decision-making

Practitioner and Educational tools

Cite: Jonathan Daniel 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

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1. Access to energy in contexts of displacement

Access to energy is vital in enabling refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency and social integration. [1] 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. [2] 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. [3]

Despite this, access to energy has typically been neglected by international and humanitarian organisations responsible for emergency provision and long-term support to refugees. [4]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.[5] This has led to the neglect of energy as a strategic priority area, restricting funding opportunities, and impairing energy programme prioritization and coordination. [6] 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. [7]

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. [8] However, research and applications of energy decision making in the context of protracted and displaced settlements remains almost completely unexplored. [9]

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. [10] 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. [11]

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. [12]

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:

  1. Cooking energy
  2. Household lighting and electricity
  3. 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.[13] 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

4. Application

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.[14]

Criteria Sub-criteria
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 [15] and Clean Cooking Alliance [16] 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 [17]

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 [18] (see Table 5).

Table 5: RERT questionnaire input data for Kigeme refugee camp.

Camp geography and demographics
Camp population 21,000
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
Topography Hilly
Vacant space outside camp for energy installations Little space
Household cooking
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
–          Pellets 10/10 Families
Income
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 %

5.1.1 Baseline

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.

5.1.2 Results

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. [19] 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. [20]

Table 7: RERT questionnaire input data for Kebri Beyah Refugee Camp.

Camp geography and demographics
Camp population 14685
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
Topography Flat
Vacant space outside camp for energy installations Lots of space
Household cooking
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
–          Pellets Families
Income
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

5.2.2 Results

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

6. Discussion

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.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support under the Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project financed by Research Councils UK (EP/P029531/1), along with the contributions from project partners (Practical Action and Scene Connect). We would also 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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