Solar mini-grids have been spotlighted in a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and UN agency UNHCR as a key way of improving living conditions for tens of millions of displaced persons at refugee camps around the world.

The study, which drew on data collected from field missions to the Darashakran and Domiz camps in Iraq and Tsore and Sherkole in Ethiopia, makes the case for onsite PV as boosting the “efficiency of humanitarian operations, avoiding costly diesel consumption, and supporting recently arrived refugees with immediate, reliable electricity access”.

“Renewables can quickly and effectively change the lives of refugees for the better,” stated Irena director-general Francesco La Camera. “Off-grid and grid connected small- and medium-sized solar installations are available, affordable and can bring reliable power to millions of displaced people around the world. Renewable solutions could become essential to the humanitarian toolkit.”

The UN’s high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said: “In line with our global strategy for sustainable energy, we aim to ensure that refugees can meet their basic energy needs in exile while also minimising environmental degradation.

“Sustainable energy access will bridge this gap, enabling refugees to pursue education, supporting businesses and social enterprises, spurring innovation and exponentially enhancing the safety and well-being of people and communities, until such time that they can return home.”

The report, launched at the Global Refugee Forum taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, comes as the two organisations agreed a new memorandum of understanding to deepen their cooperation in promoting renewable energy solutions for humanitarian causes. There are currently 26 million refugees in camps around the world.

“We are looking forward to closely work and support UNHCR in its effort to protect life in humanitarian situations,” said La Camera.

Grandi added: “This report and this new partnership between Irena and UNHCR is the beginning of an important alliance to mainstream access to energy for refugees and displaced people as well as their local communities, ensuring that they are not left behind.”

The report, Renewables for refugee settlements: Sustainable energy access in humanitarian situations, found that in Iraq blackouts and brownouts remain commonplace even at grid-connected settlements, leaving refugees and the humanitarian community dependent on high cost, polluting diesel generators, while in Ethiopia, stand-alone solar systems with battery banks could “cushion the impact” of voltage fluctuations on the grid that currently leave most refugees with a lack of reliable electric lighting.