Energy Access to Refugees

refugee-camp-energyThere is a strong link between the serious humanitarian situation of refugees and lack of access to sustainable energy resources. According to a 2015 UNCHR report, there are more than 65.3 million displaced people around the world, the highest level of human displacement ever documented. Access to clean and affordable energy is a prerequisite for sustainable development of mankind, and refugees are no exception. Needless to say, almost all refugee camps are plagued by fuel poverty and urgent measure are required to make camps livable.

Usually the tragedy of displaced people doesn’t end at the refugee camp, rather it is a continuous exercise where securing clean, affordable and sustainable energy is a major concern. Although humanitarian agencies are providing food like grains, rice and wheat; yet food must be cooked before serving. Severe lack of modern cook stoves and access to clean fuel is a daily struggle for displaced people around the world. This article will shed some light on the current situation of energy access challenges being faced by displaced people in refugee camps.

Why Energy Access Matters?

Energy is the lifeline of our modern society and an enabler for economic development and advancement. Without safe and reliable access to energy, it is really difficult to meet basic human needs. Energy access is a challenge that touches every aspect of the lives of refugees and negatively impacts health, limits educational and economic opportunities, degrades the environment and promotes gender discrimination issues. Lack of energy access in refugee camps areas leads to energy poverty and worsen humanitarian conditions for vulnerable communities and groups.

Energy Access for Cooking

Refugee camps receive food aid from humanitarian agencies yet this food needs to be cooked before consumption. Thus, displaced people especially women and children take the responsibility of collecting firewood, biomass from areas around the camp. However, this expose women and minors to threats like sexual harassments, danger, death and children miss their opportunity for education. Moreover, depleting woods resources cause environmental degradation and spread deforestation which contributes to climate change. Moreover, cooking with wood affects the health of displaced people.

Access to efficient and modern cook stove is a primary solution to prevent health risks, save time and money, reduce human labour and combat climate change. However, humanitarian agencies and host countries can aid camp refugees in providing clean fuel for cooking because displaced people usually live below poverty level and often host countries can’t afford connecting the camp to the main grid. So, the issue of energy access is a challenge that requires immediate and practical solutions. A transition to sustainable energy is an advantage that will help displaced people, host countries and the environment.

Energy Access for Lighting

Lighting is considered as a major concern among refugees in their temporary homes or camps. In the camps life almost stops completely after sunset which delays activities, work and studying only during day time hours. Talking about two vulnerable groups in the refugees’ camps “women and children” for example, children’s right of education is reduced as they have fewer time to study and do homework. For women and girls, not having light means that they are subject to sexual violence and kidnapped especially when they go to public restrooms or collect fire woods away from their accommodations.

Rationale For Sustainable Solutions

Temporary solutions won’t yield results for displaced people as their reallocation, often described as “temporary”, often exceeds 20 years. Sustainable energy access for refugees is the answer to alleviate their dire humanitarian situation. It will have huge positive impacts on displaced people’s lives and well-being, preserve the environment and support host communities in saving fuel costs.  Also, humanitarian agencies should work away a way from business as usual approach in providing aid, to be more innovative and work for practical sustainable solutions when tackling energy access challenge for refugee camps.

UN SDG 7 – Energy Access

The new UN SDG7 aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. SDG 7 is a powerful tool to ensure that displaced people are not left behind when it comes to energy access rights. SDG7 implies on four dimensions: affordability, reliability, sustainability and modernity. They support and complete the aim of SDG7 to bring energy and lightening to empower all human around the world. All the four dimensions of the SDG7 are the day to day challenges facing displaced people. The lack of modern fuels and heavy reliance on primitive sources, such as wood and animal dung leads to indoor air pollution.

Energy access touches every aspect of life in refugee camps

Energy access touches every aspect of life in refugee camps

For millions of people worldwide, life in refugee camps is a stark reality. Affordability is of concern for displaced people as most people flee their home countries with minimum possessions and belongings so they rely on host countries and international humanitarian agencies on providing subsidized fuel for cooking and lightening. In some places, host countries are itself on a natural resources stress to provide electricity for people and refugees are left behind with no energy access resources. However, affordability is of no use if the energy provision is not reliable (means energy supply is intermittent).

Parting Shot

Displaced people need a steady supply of energy for their sustenance and economic development. As for the sustainability provision, energy should produce a consistent stream of power to satisfy basic needs of the displaced people. The sustained power stream should be greater than the resulted waste and pollution which means that upgrading the primitive fuel sources used inside the camp area to the one of modern energy sources like solar energy, wind power, biogas and other off-grid technologies.

For more insights please read this article Renewable Energy in Refugee Camps 

Biogas Plants at Akshaya Patra Kitchens

Akshaya-Patra-Kitchen-BioGasThe Akshaya Patra Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, is focused on addressing two of the most important challenges in India – hunger and education. Established in year 2000, the Foundation began its work by providing quality mid-day meals to 1500 children in 5 schools in Bangalore with the understanding that the meal would attract children to schools, after which it would be easier to retain them and focus on their holistic development. 14 years later, the Foundation has expanded its footprint to cover over 1.4 million children in 10 states and 24 locations across India.

The Foundation has centralised, automated kitchens that can cook close to 6,000 kilos of rice, 4.5 to 5 tonnes of vegetables and 6,000 litres of sambar, in only 4 hours. In order to make sustainable use of organic waste generated in their kitchens, Akshaya Patra Foundation has set up anaerobic digestion plants to produce biogas which is then used as a cooking fuel. The primary equipment used in the biogas plants includes size reduction equipment, feed preparation tank for hydrolysis of waste stream, anaerobic digester, H2S scrubber and biogas holder.

Working Principle

Vegetable peels, rejects and cooked food waste are shredded and soaked with cooked rice water (also known as ganji) in a feed preparation tank for preparation of homogeneous slurry and fermentative intermediates. The hydrolyzed products are then utilized by the microbial culture, anaerobically in the next stage. This pre-digestion step enables faster and better digestion of organics, making our process highly efficient.

The hydrolyzed organic slurry is fed to the anaerobic digester, exclusively for the high rate biomethanation of organic substrates like food waste. The digester is equipped with slurry distribution mechanism for uniform distribution of slurry over the bacterial culture. Optimum solids are retailed in the digester to maintain the required food-to-microorganism ratio in the digester with the help of a unique baffle arrangement. Mechanical slurry mixing and gas mixing provisions are also included in the AD design to felicitate maximum degradation of organic material for efficient biogas production. After trapping moisture and scrubbing off hydrogen sulphide from the biogas, it is collected in a gas-holder and a pressurized gas tank. This biogas is piped to the kitchen to be used as a cooking fuel, replacing LPG.

Basic Design Data and Performance Projections

Waste handling capacity 1 ton per day cooked and uncooked food waste with 1 ton per day ganji water

Input Parameters                      

Amount of solid organic waste 1000 Kg/day
Amount of organic wastewater ~ 1000 liters/day ganji (cooked rice water)

Biogas Production

Biogas production ~ 120 – 135 m3/day

Output Parameters

Equivalent LPG to replace 50 – 55 Kg/day (> 2.5 commercial LPG cylinders)
Fertilizer (digested leachate) ~ 1500 – 2000 liters/day

Major Benefits

Modern biogas installations are providing Akshaya Patra, an ideal platform for managing organic waste on a daily basis. The major benefits are:

  • Solid waste disposal at kitchen site avoiding waste management costs
  • Immediate waste processing overcomes problems of flies, mosquitos etc.
  • Avoiding instances when the municipality does not pick up waste, creating nuisance, smell, spillage etc.
  • Anaerobic digestion of Ganji water instead of directly treating it in ETP, therefore reducing organic load on the ETPs and also contributing to additional biogas production.

The decentralized model of biogas based waste-to-energy plants at Akshaya Patra kitchens ensure waste destruction at source and also reduce the cost incurred by municipalities on waste collection and disposal.

akshayapatra-kitchen

An on-site system, converting food and vegetable waste into green energy is improving our operations and profits by delivering the heat needed to replace cooking LPG while supplying a rich liquid fertilizer as a by-product.  Replacement of fossil fuel with LPG highlights our organization’s commitment towards sustainable development and environment protection.

The typical ROI of a plug and play system (without considering waste disposal costs, subsidies and tax benifts) is around three years.

Future Plans

Our future strategy for kitchen-based biogas plant revolves around two major points:

  • Utilization of surplus biogas – After consumption of biogas for cooking purposes, Akshaya Patra will consider utilizing surplus biogas for other thermal applications. Additional biogas may be used to heat water before boiler operations, thereby reducing our briquette consumption.
  • Digested slurry to be used as a fertilizer – the digested slurry from biogas plant is a good soil amendment for landscaping purposes and we plan to use it in order to reduce the consumption of water for irrigation as well as consumption of chemical fertilizers.