By Chinedu C. Nsude1,2 and Akter Salma2,3

  1. Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, University of Oklahoma,  Norman, 73019, Oklahoma. (
  2. Center for Peace and Development, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 73019.
  3. Gibbs College of Architecture, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 73019, Oklahoma (


Transition to sustainable energy has been recognized as a significant pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution, mitigating the energy crisis, and achieving sustainable development (Lin & Ren, 2020). These energy technologies have been widely adopted and deployed across different sectors and settings, including agriculture, transportation, household, and industries (Aroca-Delgado et al., 2018). Despite the importance of sustainable energy, its delivery in humanitarian settings such as refugee camps has been a challenge (Thomas et al., 2021). While the humanitarian sector has done well in delivering other humanitarian services, such as the intervention of water, food, shelter, and healthcare, the quest to deliver a sustainable energy service remains largely underexplored (Rosenberg-Jansen et al., 2019). This is concerning and thought-provoking as energy underpins every aspect of people's well-being and humanitarian operations, from the production of clean water, sanitation, food, health, and security. Even more concerning is that approximately 90% of these camps have limited or no access to electricity (Baldi et al., 2022), resulting in the use of firewood for cooking and heating. The impacts of this firewood collection and consumption are far-reaching and have significant implications for the environment, human health, and climate change. It is evident that the reliance on firewood for cooking is a major driver of deforestation, which leads to negative environmental consequences such as soil salinization, desertification, and loss of biological diversity. Also, the use of traditional firewood stoves contributes to indoor air pollution, posing a substantial health risk to the refugees whose survivorship should be paramount (Seifert et al., 2023).

Sustainable energy is beginning to receive increased attention as an essential need for refugee camps and their environs (Ngando et al., 2022). This is because of their environmental benefits and use for essential services such as access to electricity, clean and safe water, quality health, and improved sanitation.  Barasa-Kabeyi and Olanrewaju (2022) reported that sustainable energy helps to combat security and reduce gender-based violence emanating from gender-mixed toilets in common areas, which increases the risk of sexual victimization for women and girls (Barasa Kabeyi & Olanrewaju, 2022). A classic example is the installation of solar energy in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, which houses thousands of Syrian refugees. Implementing solar energy in the Azraq refugee camp (IRENA, 2018) has had several benefits. These include: 1). Improved access to energy provided a reliable source of electricity for the residents and power essential services such as healthcare facilities; 2). Enhanced safety and security, where the residents of the Azraq refugee camp can light their surroundings at night, reducing the risk of accidents and improving overall safety and security in the camp; 3). Environmental sustainability by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and decreasing carbon emissions, contributing to a more sustainable environment; 4). Economic empowerment, where the implementation of solar energy in the camp has created job opportunities for the refugee population with vendors and micro enterprises across the camp. Although it is expected that this will serve as a model for other refugee camps across the globe considering its benefits, over 90% of the refugee camps are yet to adopt this model due to some barriers. Hence, this study aims to identify and explore barriers posing threats to adopting sustainable energy in refugee settlements and suggest ways these barriers could be mitigated to ensure an inclusive energy solution.

Barriers to sustainable energy in refugee camps

The resilience and well-being of displaced populations broadly depend on the supply of renewable energy in refugee camps. Several obstacles hamper the successful application of sustainable energy solutions in these contexts. Here, we outline and evaluate the main barriers to adopting sustainable energy in refugee camps, which include restricted access to energy resources, poor planning, costs-benefits analysis, and policy restrictions. 

Energy Resource Access:

The lack of consistent access to energy resources is one of the main obstacles to sustainable energy in refugee camps. This is because refugee camps are frequently built in undeveloped or isolated locations, and often results in energy infrastructures, such as power grids, being insufficient for the population. (Rosenberg-Jansen, 2020). Many refugee camps also face weather fluctuations. For example, the Rohingya camps located in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh encounter problems with seasonal fluctuations that negatively impact renewable energy accessibility (Hasan et al., 2023). During the rainy season, refugee camps face substantial problems with energy accessibility since the sunlight is sparse, affecting the efficiency of solar panels (Braun et al., 2019). This variation in energy output emphasizes how crucial it is to consider local climate variables when implementing sustainable energy solutions. In addition, the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh  are heavily inhabited with little connection to the country's power grid due to their remote location coparing with the main grid line plan. In consequence, most locals rely on unsustainable forms of energy, such as firewood and kerosene, for cooking and illumination (Akter et al., 2021). South Sudanese refugee camp in northern Uganda  also faces similar power grid issues is highlighted in the past literature (van Hove & Johnson, 2021). This refugee camp depends mainly on diesel generators, which are costly to run, contributing to air pollution and potential health risks to refugees (Bruch et al., 2016; Stjernquist Desatnik, 2019).  

Inadequate Planning:

Poor planning is another significant obstacle to adopting sustainable energy solutions in refugee camps (Barbieri, 2019). The quick and random setup of the refugee camps frequently results in a lack of planning for including sustainable energy infrastructure (Oyedepo, 2012). For example, in Jordan, many refugee camps instantly developed unplanned ways to respond to the influx of Syrian refugees (Dalal et al., 2018). At first, many of the refugee camps in Jordan did not have adequate access to renewable energy sources because there wasn't enough forethought in the camp's original design stages. Efforts to convert these camps with solar panels and other renewable energy options encountered delays and technical difficulties due to poor planning (Hamed & Bressler, 2019). Another classic example is the Somali refugees in Ethiopia, who face the unequal distribution of electricity resources due to a lack of inclusive planning of energy solutions for the camps (Matthey-Junod et al., 2022), which sometimes affects the regular life of the refugees. A more organized and inclusive planning strategy is needed to provide fair access to renewable energy in refugee camps.

Cost-Benefit Challenges:

Implementing sustainable energy solutions in refugee camps is often significantly hampered by financial concerns. Though the initial investment and operating costs of renewable energy technology may be deemed unaffordable, they can offer long-term advantages, particularly in humanitarian circumstances with limited resources. One such example is the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, which are home to primarily Somali refugees, and have had difficulty implementing renewable energy solutions due to a lack of financial support (Maalim et al., 2021). The Dadaab refugee camp is not linked to any national grid, resulting in limited or no electricity access. This has prompted about 60.8% of the refugees to use dry-cell battery torches. An additional 11.2% rely on indirect lighting from neighbors' homes or streetlights, 10.5% use generators, 7% use solar lanterns, and 4% use kerosene lamps for lightening (Wardeh & Marques, 2021). Funding for renewable energy projects may be difficult for humanitarian groups and host nations, leading them to choose less sustainable but less expensive energy solutions. Similar findings have been found in the case of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, who also face difficulties in adopting renewable energy solutions due to funding (Roth, 2023). Dependence on conventional energy sources due to a lack of funding has impeded the shift to sustainable options.

Policy Constraints:

Inefficient or downright absent policy frameworks significantly impact the viability and outcome of sustainable energy projects in refugee camps. Oftentimes, development is hampered by unclear policies, even when the policies support and encourage the integration of sustainable solutions such as renewable energy. For example, policy restrictions have hampered the development of renewable energy projects in Uganda (Grafham et al., 2022). Furthermore, partners and supporting organizations have occasionally been discouraged due to the lack of a clear policy framework controlling the ownership and management of refugee camps. Additionally, the unrecognized refugee status and rights may occasionally hamper national and international organizations' support of renewable energy solutions. For example, in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, the displaced persons are not officially recognized as refugees, thereby hampering their rights, status, and benefits (Rafa et al., 2022). 

Proposed Solutions to implementing sustainable energy solutions in refugee camps.

A comprehensive and holistic strategy is required to get beyond the identifiable barriers and encourage the integration and scaling-up of sustainable energy solutions in refugee settings.

Energy Resource Access:

Since most refugee camps are located in remote and underdeveloped areas with limited and no  access to energy infrastructures, encouraging the transition to other energy sources, such as solar and wind power risk-husk biomass, can help meet the energy needs of refugee camps in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.  It is  noted in some recent study that using photovoltaic-based microgrids can ensure reliable and clean energy access for refugee settlements (Verba et al., 2022a). Past research also highlighted that off-grid energy solutions can provide sustainable access to remote and infrastructure-less areas (Prescott et al., 2017). It is important to state that while most of the refugee camps are situated in an emergency manner, and often there is no time for a detailed infrastructural assessment, there is a need to conduct a detailed assessment and site suitability of potential refugee camps. The assessment will incorporate both primary and secondary services, such as energy, using accurate data to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of the refugee camps. In designing and assessing the energy resource accessibility, data such as solar radiation, wind speed/direction, biomass, energy sources, and economic status of the host community should be collected (Borodinecs et al., 2022).

Effective Planning:

Implementing effective, sustainable energy planning in the design of refugee camps is crucial for ensuring the well-being and resilience of displaced populations. Several approaches have been identified to enhance effective planning and to ensure that refugee camps are designed to be environmentally friendly and efficient in energy consumption (Gaspard-Chickoree, 2020). These approaches include optimizing site potential, building space and energy use, protecting and conserving water, enhancing indoor environmental quality, and maintenance practices (Zhao, 2018). Furthermore, engaging in multi-stakeholder collaborations and partnerships is essential to foster inclusive planning and shape market-based strategies for energy access in refugee camps, considering the specific needs and perspectives of refugees and host communities (Moreno-Serna et al., 2020). This integrated approach will meet displaced populations' immediate energy needs and contribute to sustainable development goals (SDGs 7, 11, and 13). 

Cost-benefit Challenges:

Some identifiable solutions to addressing cost-benefit challenges are the following: 1) Implementation of hybrid renewable energy systems in refugee camps (Karl & Scholz Karl, 2022). For example, a study by (Neves et al., 2021) highlights the viability of using hybrid renewable energy systems in long-term emergency operations, such as refugee camps. These systems combine different renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and biomass generators, along with a backup system, like battery storage, to ensure an uninterrupted power supply. 2) Integrate community energy projects, which can play a significant role in driving decarbonization and increasing the equity of energy systems in refugee camps (Verba et al., 2022b). For instance, in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, a community-led solar project called "Project Light" was implemented. This project involved installing solar panels on rooftops and providing training to refugees on maintenance and management, empowering them to take ownership of their energy supply. While this strategy demonstrates how cost-benefit provides sustainable and affordable energy access, it also creates opportunities for local businesses. 3). Exploring partnerships and collaborations with international initiatives and multi-stakeholder collaborations, such as the Clean Energy Challenge and the Global Plan of Action (GPA) for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement, to access additional funding and expertise for building renewable energy infrastructure in refugee camps. For example, the GPA has provided additional funding and expertise to implement renewable energy projects in refugee camps, helping to offset the initial costs and ensure long-term energy sustainability. By leveraging these collaborations and utilizing hybrid renewable energy systems and local community involvement, it is possible to overcome the cost-benefit challenges in building renewable energy infrastructure in refugee camps.

Improved Policy:

Adequate and necessary steps have been identified to strengthen policies that will scale up sustainable energy development in refugee camps. Firstly, it is crucial to augment and rebuild the electricity network and strengthen coordination between different levels of government. This step is essential for ensuring the effective implementation of renewable energy policies (Hua et al., 2016). Secondly, financial investment policies play a significant role in developing renewable energy capacity. In addition to regulation and economic incentive policies, measures that ensure financial investment, such as investment risk reduction, can facilitate the growth of renewable energy capacity (Lee, 2019). Thirdly, there must be improved monitoring and evaluation mechanisms within renewable energy subsidy systems through increasing penalties for non-implementation of policies (Song et al., 2022). These steps are essential for ensuring that renewable energy resources are effectively leveraged to meet the energy needs of refugee camps (Nisar & Rodríguez-Monroy, 2012).


Sustainable energy implementation in refugee camps has been a critical area of focus to ensure a higher quality of life and progress toward sustainability and the general well-being of refugees. The integration of sustainable energy in this area has shown to be complex, with several obstacles and barriers. However, this study has shown that integrating renewable energy systems in refugee camps is possible. However, it’s a multifaceted endeavor that goes beyond addressing immediate energy needs. It requires collaboration, capacity building, effective planning, policy reviews, and a long-term perspective to ensure the sustainability and viability of these energy solutions. By fostering these holistic, inclusive, and adaptive energy solutions, the resilience, empowerment, and well-being of refugee communities can be achieved. 


Aroca-Delgado, R., Pérez-Alonso, J., Callejón-Ferre, Á.-J., & Velázquez‐Martí, B. (2018). Compatibility Between Crops and Solar Panels: An Overview From Shading Systems. Sustainability.

Akter, S., Dhar, T. K., Rahman, A. I. A., & Uddin, M. K. (2021). Investigating the resilience of refugee camps to COVID-19: A case of Rohingya settlements in Bangladesh. Journal of migration and health, 4, 100052. 

Barbieri, J. (2019). Comprehensive energy solutions in humanitarian settlements. From the energy-food nexus to a holistic approach to energy planning. 

Braun, A., Fakhri, F., & Hochschild, V. (2019). Refugee camp monitoring and environmental change assessment of Kutupalong, Bangladesh, based on radar imagery of Sentinel-1 and ALOS-2. Remote Sensing, 11(17), 2047. 

Bruch, C., Muffett, C., & Nichols, S. S. (2016). Governance, natural resources and post-conflict peacebuilding. Routledge. 

Dalal, A., Darweesh, A., Misselwitz, P., & Steigemann, A. (2018). Planning the ideal refugee camp? A critical interrogation of recent planning innovations in Jordan and Germany. Urban Planning, 3(4), 64-78. 

Grafham, O., Lahn, G., & Haselip, J. (2022). Scaling sustainable energy services for displaced people and their hosts. 

Hamed, T. A., & Bressler, L. (2019). Energy security in Israel and Jordan: The role of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy, 135, 378-389. 

Hasan, M. M., Al Baker, A., & Khan, I. (2023). Is solar power an emergency solution to electricity access? Findings from the largest Rohingya refugee camps. Energy Research & Social Science, 103071. 

Maalim, S. A., Adwek, G., & Arowo, M. (2021). Shared energy parks as a solution to energy challenges for Dadaab Refugee Camps in Kenya. Scientific African, 13, e00901. 

Matthey-Junod, A., Sandwell, P., Makohliso, S., & Schönenberger, K. (2022). Leaving no aspect of sustainability behind: A framework for designing sustainable energy interventions applied to refugee camps. Energy Research & Social Science, 90, 102636. 

Neves, D., Baptista, P., & Pires, J. M. (2021). Sustainable and inclusive energy solutions in refugee camps: Developing a modelling approach for energy demand and alternative renewable power supply. Journal of Cleaner Production, 298, 126745. 

Oyedepo, S. O. (2012). Energy and sustainable development in Nigeria: the way forward. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 2(1), 1-17. 

Rafa, N., Van To, T. T., Gupta, M., & Uddin, S. M. N. (2022). The pursuit of energy in refugee contexts: discrimination, displacement, and humanitarian energy access for the Rohingya refugees displaced to Bangladesh. Energy Research & Social Science, 83, 102334. 

Rosenberg-Jansen, S. (2020). Voices in the dark: energy and the politics of living in refugee camps University of Oxford]. 

Roth, B. J. (2023). Temporary shelter: Venezuelan migrants and the uncertainty of waiting in Colombia. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 21(3), 263-275. 

Stjernquist Desatnik, M. (2019). Energy Access for the Most Vulnerable Groups: A Study on the Long-Term Effects of Energy Access in a Refugee Camp Context with Inclusion of the Host Community. In.

van Hove, E., & Johnson, N. G. (2021). Refugee settlements in transition: Energy access and development challenges in Northern Uganda. Energy Research & Social Science, 78, 102103. 

Wardeh, M., & Marques, R. C. (2021). Sustainability in refugee camps: A comparison of the two largest refugee camps in the world. Journal of Refugee Studies, 34(3), 2740-2774. 

Baldi, D., Moner-Girona, M., Fumagalli, E., & Fahl, F. (2022). Planning sustainable electricity solutions for refugee settlements in sub-Saharan Africa. Nature Energy, 7(4), 369–379.

Barasa Kabeyi, M. J., & Olanrewaju, O. A. (2022). Biogas Production and Applications in the Sustainable Energy Transition. Journal of Energy.

Borodinecs, A., Zajecs, D., Lebedeva, K., & Bogdanovics, R. (2022). Mobile Off-Grid Energy Generation Unit for Temporary Energy Supply. Applied Sciences, 12(2), 673.

Gaspard-Chickoree, K. (2020). A GEOSPATIALLY DISTRIBUTED E-REFUGEE CAMP TECHNOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR CARIBBEAN SMALL ISLAND STATES. Proceedings of the International Conference on Emerging Trends in Engineering & Technology (IConETech-2020), 675–686.

Hua, Y., Oliphant, M., & Hu, E. (2016). Development of Renewable Energy in Australia and China: A Comparison of Policies and Status. Renewable Energy.

Karl, A. A., & Scholz Karl, J. (2022). Human rights for refugees: enhancing sustainable humanitarian supply chain to guarantee a health environment in refugee settlements. Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, 12(3), 382–403.

Lee, T. (2019). Financial Investment for the Development of Renewable Energy Capacity. Energy & Environment.

Lin, R., & Ren, J. (2020). Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development. Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development.

Moreno-Serna, J., Chaparro, T. S., Mazorra, J., Arzamendi, A., Stott, L., & Mataix, C. (2020). Transformational Collaboration for the SDGs: The Alianza Shire's Work to Provide Energy Access in Refugee Camps and Host Communities. Sustainability.

Ngando, N., Yakub, A. O., Kigha Nsafon, B. E., Owolabi, A. B., Mih, T. A., Suh, D., & Huh, J.-S. (2022). Performance Evaluation of Renewable-Based Sustainable Micro-Grid Under Predictive Management Control Strategy: A Case Study of Gado Refugee Camp in Cameroon. Frontiers in Energy Research.

Nisar, A., & Rodríguez-Monroy, C. (2012). Potential of the Renewable Energy Development in Jammu and Kashmir, India. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Prescott, G. W., Sutherland, W. J., Aguirre, D., Baird, M., Bowman, V., Brunner, J., Connette, G. M., Cosier, M., Dapice, D., De Alban, J. D. T., Diment, A., Fogerite, J., Fox, J., Hlaing, W., Htun, S., Hurd, J., LaJeunesse Connette, K., Lasmana, F., Lim, C. L., … Webb, E. L. (2017). Political transition and emergent forest‐conservation issues in Myanmar. Conservation Biology, 31(6), 1257–1270.

Rosenberg-Jansen, S., Tunge, T., & Kayumba, T. (2019). Inclusive energy solutions in refugee camps. Nature Energy, 4(12), 990–992.

Seifert, L., Kunz, N., & Gold, S. (2023). Sustainable Innovations for Humanitarian Operations In refugee Camps. International Journal of Operations & Production Management.

Song, D., Jia, B., & Hongtao, J. (2022). Review of Renewable Energy Subsidy System in China. Energies.

Thomas, P. J. M., Sandwell, P., Williamson, S. J., & Harper, P. W. (2021). A PESTLE Analysis of Solar Home Systems in Refugee Camps in Rwanda. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Verba, N., Nixon, J. D., Gaura, E., Dias, L. A., & Halford, A. (2022a). A community energy management system for smart microgrids. Electric Power Systems Research, 209, 107959.

Verba, N., Nixon, J. D., Gaura, E., Dias, L. A., & Halford, A. (2022b). A community energy management system for smart microgrids. Electric Power Systems Research, 209, 107959.

Zhao, N. (2018). Renewable Energy Development Strategies in China Based on Value Analysis. Destech Transactions on Environment Energy and Earth Science.

Article or Event Link
Apr 18, 2024
Public Policy


Public Policy

Join Our Newsletter and Get the Latest
Posts to Your Inbox

No spam ever. Read our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.