The HEED project: Summary of multi-level cross sectional impact.

Briefing & working papers

Globally, there are 82.4 million displaced people and 26.4 million refugees[i]. An estimated 7 million displaced people in camps have access to electricity for less than four hours a day[ii], making them among the most likely groups left behind in the global drive for improved energy access. In settings that are both precarious economically and politically, humanitarian actors need access to design protocols and pathways for energy products and services that deliver inclusive, affordable, and sustainable energy systems that benefit camp-based populations now and in the future.

This briefing paper overviews three impacts that emerged from the project outcomes that can aid short and long-term improved access to energy and sustainability of energy systems for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Cite: Al-Kaddo, H., Halford, A., Nixon, J., and Gaura, E. (2021). The HEED project: Summary of multi-level cross-sectional impact on three sectors. Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for
Displacement (HEED) Project, Coventry University UK. DOI. 10.18552/HEED/2021/0004

Download here The HEED project: Summary of multi-level cross-sectional impact on three sectors pdf.

The HEED project: Summary of multi-level cross sectional impact.

Sector Impact

Numerous global challenges, such as climate change, natural disasters, and increased humanitarian crisis, mean that striking a balance between rapid humanitarian relief and sustainability must be considered when implementing energy interventions. The reliance on different sectors and approaches was important to the learning and success of the HEED project due to the project implementation in two diverse country contexts with multiple project partners. In line with the OECD-DAC definition, we view impact as the ‘positive and negative change produced directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, by a development intervention’[iii]. The project produced significant learning outcomes that contribute to cross-sectoral impact in the following areas: policy, development, and humanitarian action.

  1. Policy impact: a data portal with survey and sensor monitoring data on the energy usage of household, community, and commercial buildings, which can aid decision making for policymakers, practitioners, and academics working in the displaced setting.
  2. Implementation impact: piloting of energy interventions, solar-battery systems design and community ownership models that promote context-appropriate energy systems.
  3. Sustainable development impact: engaging communities through participation and democratisation of common-pool resources to improve access to energy that will build capacity and self-reliance.

Policy Impact

Research, evidence, and data on energy in the humanitarian sector are critical to delivering Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 for the access of safe, modern, and clean energy for all by 2030. Without a comprehensive overview of access to energy in the displaced setting, it limits designing, deploying, and implementing energy programmes that respond to refugees’ energy needs and aspirations.  Policy informed by data helps regulate processes and generates innovations that provide livelihoods opportunities and enable humanitarian agencies to implement essential energy services for vulnerable populations. Implementing energy policies in the refugee host country and within the humanitarian sector can also help increase inclusion and energy access for displaced populations.  Including new strategies for integrating the human and social dimensions of energy systems into energy design, planning, and policy-making processes allows for higher levels of inclusion of the displaced populations[iv]. Thus, well designed and implementable energy policies can improve energy security, minimise emissions in the national refugee-hosting contexts and improve access for displaced populations.

Energy Data

Currently, there is a scarcity of energy-related data in the humanitarian sector, which reflects the complexity of that setting due to differing energy usage, the availability of infrastructures, and the socio-economic, development and political environments within countries. Data is needed to understand the energy needs and usage of populations, the availability of infrastructures in the context, and the socio-economic, development and political environments within the host countries. The absence of data for policy and decision-makers within the humanitarian sector and for energy stakeholders, such as national governments or the private sector, means that the implementation of energy systems and projects that are useful, efficient and cost-effective for displaced communities have been slow. Without data that informs policies, the implementation of efficient and cost-effective energy systems and projects for displaced communities will continue to be slow and unsustainable. One of the HEED projects contributions has been to identify and collect evidence and data on energy within the refugee and displacement contexts in Rwanda and Nepal.

CASE STUDY: Energy data portal

To address the gap in humanitarian energy data, the HEED Data Portal contains a large body of data collected from sensor monitoring and surveys conducted in three refugee camps (Gihembe, Nyabiheke, and Kigeme) in Rwanda and four sites for IDPs in Khalte, Nepal. The HEED Portal is a repository for the project’s survey’s, sensor monitoring data and photographic data. The data in the portal evidences the ways people interact with static and portable solar lighting, clay cookstoves and energy use in communal spaces in complex, infrastructure-less settings.

Energy assessment surveys of 1,000 respondents, including households, entrepreneurs, and those responsible for community facilities, such as schools and health clinics, are found in the data portal. The surveys include data on the energy usage of household, community and commercial buildings. They are evidential of how refugees in Rwanda and IDPs in Nepal have access to and use of electricity, lighting technologies, cooking technologies, fuels and own energy products.

This open access repository contains sensor monitoring data collected from an IDP settlement in Khalte, Nepal. The data gives insights into electricity usage, its costs and sufficiency in grid-connected sub-metered scenarios. In Rwanda, sensor data monitoring was from a standalone solar system for a community hall and 40 solar mobile lanterns in Nyabiheke refugee camp. In the Kigeme camp, data was collected from a PV-battery micro-grid for two nursery buildings and a playground and stove use monitors; and in Gihembe camp, sensor data was collected from eight solar streetlights, including four advanced streetlights.

The HEED Data Portal also includes design details of the energy interventions installed. The portal contains protocols on designing solar systems for communal lighting and buildings with low-cost intelligent sockets and light sensors for remote metering and control for all the interventions installed.

Implementation Impact

Sustainability of energy interventions is attributed to a number of issues, which range from the technical to the socio-cultural, institutional and economic aspects of implementation[v]. HEED produced energy interventions that provided greater access to education and livelihood opportunities, in addition to the technological energy solutions in the camps. The interventions relied on co-design and co-creation methodologies, which were employed both in the Rwanda and Nepal refugee and displacement contexts. These methodologies helped implement energy systems impacts that are both longer-term and sustainable for the communities in the complex displacement contexts.

Co-creation of energy services

Community co-creation of energy interventions positions the needs of refugee and displaced communities at the centre of energy programmes to become active participants in energy governance and technological skills development. Funding alone for technological innovation-driven solutions is not sufficient to produce robust energy eco-systems in the displacement context. The existing approach to energy access will continue to embed aid dependency unless communities are engaged prior to deployment of energy interventions. Community co-creation will build technological skills, draw upon local resources, and open up a range of community ownership models that increase the sustainability and longevity of energy interventions using new technologies.

CASE STUDY: Mobile sensor solar lanterns: Nyabiheke Camp

Solar lanterns can provide cheaper lighting for longer durations, offering a sustainable alternative to kerosene and other fossil fuel-based lighting technologies. When no other forms of electricity are available in homes, solar lanterns as a discrete intervention have the greatest positive impact on the lives of refugees, particularly women and children[vi]. To understand how solar lanterns are currently being used by people living in camps, HEED distributed 40 mobile solar lanterns, designed with a sensor to record movement and usage, to Congolese refugees living in Nyabiheke camp.  The data gives insights into the frequency of use, mode of lantern use, for example, whether the lantern was used static or mobile/ indoor or outdoor), distances the lantern travelled by households at night, and the type of indoor usage. Exploring how and in what ways mobile lanterns are used in the domestic and communal spaces allows for understanding to what extent mobile lanterns are gendered. In future, this data could improve solar lantern designs by reflecting the lived experience of women in the displaced setting.

Sustainable Development Impact

Sustainable energy solutions and investments in refugee contexts help generate and promote environmental and social impacts, both directly and indirectly. The aims of the HEED project fall in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to the implementation of energy interventions (SDG7.1). HEED contributed to skills development and the inclusion of participants through democratisation processes during the project implementation, thus leading to inclusive societies in line with SDG16.

Participation and democratisation

Ownership of assets by refugee communities is not currently the norm. Discussions with communities around access to energy encourages community based decision making, democratisation and infrastructure that builds community capacity and resilience. Providing space for socio-technical solutions to emerge from conversations with refugees, IDPs, practitioners, and other energy stakeholders is critical to mobilising community engagement. HEED delivered a number of Design for Displacement (D4D) community workshops in Nepal, Rwanda, and the UK to clarify desired energy outcomes, inform design protocols, and identify robust demand patterns ahead of system design. Similarly, hosting Energy for End-Users (E4E) community workshops in Nepal and Rwanda created a space for refugees and IDPs, especially women and young people, to explore how they would design and manage the day-to-day use and maintenance of the proposed systems. These workshops proved to be instrumental in designing and piloting community co-designed energy models that worked towards community participation and democratisation through communal responsibility for the use of solar interventions. An outcome of the community democratisation processes is the continued engagement of the community leaders in the three refugee camps in Rwanda and Nepal in the management of the interventions. This shows the potential of alternative energy ownership models and how refugees and IDPs can self-govern energy resources to improve conditions. Positioning refugees and IDPs centrally in the decision-making on energy interventions encouraged them to think creatively and collectively about how best to use the energy provided by the interventions.

CASE STUDY: Empowering communities

Empowering community representatives in the management of communal energy resulted in a diverse range of social and community activities, such as people cooking and eating together. There were also formal community activities that were essential to education and governance within the refugee camps, which included extra-curricular teaching and leaders meetings.

Empowering communities also means providing safe spaces and engaging with all participants in the communities. For instance, during the co-designing solar streetlights workshop in Gihembe, Rwanda, participants expressed concerns about responsibility for the security of the lights due to previous lighting projects being subject to theft and vandalism. The consultation of the community for solutions led to the transfer of responsibility to the local camp leaders of each quarter, empowering them to nominate individuals to carry out the security of the lights at each location. Subsequently, the community became active actors in generating sustainable solutions to protect the interventions encouraging communal ownership of the streetlights. Further, demonstrating democratisation at the camp level based on agreed solutions.

In addition to this, the recent COVID-19 pandemic saw committee leaders instrumental in repurposing the nursery building in Kigeme, Rwanda allowing students from the University of Kigali to use the building to power their laptops and to connect to wireless internet. Subsequently, the community became more confident in generating sustainable solutions to protect the interventions demonstrating democratisation at the camp level based on agreed solutions.

HEED Resources

The HEED Data Portal

The Renewable Energy and Recommendation Tool (RERT)


Gaura, E., and Nixon, J. 2019. Remote sensing technologies and energy applications in refugee camps in Energy Access and Forced Migration, eds Grafham, O. London: Routledge, p 158-169. DOI: 10.4324/9781351006941-11

Grafham, O., Mattia Vianello, M., Rosenberg-Jansen, S., Harnmeijer, J., and Crawley, H. 2018. Energy for Displacement: Understanding the Challenges. Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement. Coventry University

Halford, A. 2021. Building capacity: HEED skills audit and recommendations. Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) Project, Coventry University. DOI: 10.18552/HEED/2021/0002

Halford, A. 2020. Working towards modern, affordable & sustainable energy systems in the context of displacement: Recommendations for researchers and practitioners. Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) Project, Coventry University. DOI10.18552/HEED/2020/0001

Nixon, J.D., Bhargava, K., Halford, A., Gaura, E. 2021. Analysis of standalone solar streetlights for improved energy access in displaced settlements. Renewable Energy, 177: 895-914. DOI org/10.1016/j.renene.2021.05.105

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


The HEED team 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 HEED team would like to 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).

[i] UNHCR (2021) Figures at a Glance. About Us. Online: UNHCR Ireland. Available at: (Accessed: 24 September 2021).

[ii] Grafham, O. (2019) Energy Access and Forced Migration. 1st edn.: Routledge, p. 208.

[iii] OECD-DAC (2018) Better Criteria for Better Evaluation Revised Evaluation Criteria Definitions and Principles for Use OECD/DAC Network on Development Evaluation: The OECD DAC Network on Development Evaluation (EvalNet) p 11.  Available at:

[iv] Miller, C.A., Richter, J. and O’Leary, J., 2015. Socio-energy systems design: a policy framework for energy transitions. Energy Research & Social Science, 6, pp.29-40.

[v] Terrapon-Pfaff, J. et al. (2018) ‘Impact pathways of small-scale energy projects in the global south – Findings from a systematic evaluation’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 95, pp. 84-94.

[vi] Harrison, K., Khan, S., Adams, T., and Dichter, S. (2020) ‘Why Off-Grid Energy Matters?’ An Impact Performance Report. UK: 60 Decibels.

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