The world’s first solar-powered refugee camp changes lives, saves costs

Azraq camp in the desert of northern Jordan is the world’s first solar-powered refugee camp. The solar plant has brought massive changes to the lives of the Syrian refugee families who live in a place where summers are hot and winters are harsh. Having electricity has made everyday tasks like cooking and washing simpler and more efficient. Children can do their homework. With fridges, food doesn’t go bad. WIth lights, women and children feel safe walking to the communal washrooms at night. And the plant has created jobs for refugees, too.

By D-Stanley –, CC BY 2.0,

The solar power provides affordable and sustainable electricity to at least 40,900 Syrian refugees living in up to 10,470 shelters. Each family can have light inside the shelter, connect fridges and fans, and charge their phones, helping them keep in touch with relatives and friends abroad.

And it creates jobs. Fifty refugees who were employed in building the solar plant. Another 120 are employed on a rotating basis to carry out internal house wiring from the electrical network, supported by 10 trained refugee electricians who ensure the safety and quality of these connections.

The solar plant was first connected in May 2017, with a capacity of two megawatts. A 1.5-megawatt extension in 2018 meant that more than half of the camp’s electrical needs would be met through renewable energy, saving UNHCR $2 million a year and reducing the camp’s CO2 emissions by around 4,500 tons a year. By mid-2019, a further extension meant renewable energy will supply 70% of the camp’s energy demands, saving yet more money and carbon.

The project is funded by IKEA’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, which raised €30.8 million for UNHCR to provide light and renewable energy for refugee families living in camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Working with IKEA Foundation and Practical Action between 2017 and 2022, the UN’s refugee agency is providing renewable energy for 60,000 children and families in Rwanda and Jordan.

In Rwanda, the project has meant that 50,000 people in and around Kigeme, Nyabiheke, and Gihembe refugee camps have increased access to renewable energy for lighting, cooking and essential appliances. And in Jordan, where approximately 80% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, it is increasing access to renewable energy for 10,000 refugees and people from the host community by providing solar-powered water heating and electricity systems to low-income homes, schools and community centres.

‘We have warm water always’

One example of the kind of change that it has brought is told by UNHCR:

“Amongst a sea of concrete roofs, Nahlah and her youngest son Qusai stand in front of their home’s new solar-powered hot water system. “Now, we are not afraid of turning on the tap,” she says. “We have warm water always.”

This wasn’t always the case. For almost two years, Nahlah and her family were displaced inside Syria. “Sometimes, the places we had moved to were bombed, and so we had to flee to another place,” she explains.  

With the situation becoming more and more dire, they fled to Jordan, arriving in November 2013.

Today, she lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Mafraq, with her three youngest sons and daughter. Widowed after her husband was killed in Syria, Nahlah is solely responsible for looking after her children and keeping a roof over their heads. Paying rent and bills soon proved difficult; the family would only use their water heater for showers, rather than using it to wash dishes or clean up before prayers.

“We were very afraid to even put the heating [on] during winter because the electrical bill would be very high,” she says.

But that has changed. Six months ago, a solar-powered hot water system was installed in her home, as part of the Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) project. Supported by UNHCR, in partnership with IKEA Foundation and Practical Action, the project oversees the installation of solar-powered hot water systems in houses in Jordan, owned by locals. The installation is free of charge. In exchange, homeowners agree to reduce the rent they charge their refugee tenants for a whole year.

For a single mother like Nahlah, this initiative has made a huge difference. Her rent has gone from 180 JOD (roughly $250) per month to 158 JOD. And her electricity bill has been cut in half.

With this support, Nahlah can look to the future. She wants her children to “be healthy and safe, and to succeed and graduate, and to always be living in a safe place.”


Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R). Practical Action.

Renewable energy boost for Azraq refugee camp. IKEA Foundation, Oct. 17, 2018

Renewable energy for refugees. UNHCR, n.d

Thanks to DFID for the featured image at the top.