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Centre for Global Engineering project (For CSC494H1/CSC495H1)


Industry Advisor: Plan International Canada/Centre for Global Engineering, U of T

Project ID: PIC
Supervisor: Professor Olivier Trescases (ECE)

Title: Improving Electricity Infrastructures in Ugandan Refugee Camps

Instructions to Apply:

Send a resume and unofficial transcript to: Donna Liu, Multidisciplinary Engineering Design Activities and Operation Assistant (mcp@mie.utoronto.ca)

Project Description:

Note: A site visit is potentially available.

With the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 in 2015, the international community has established energy as a fundamental pillar of development in its own right (1); however, there has been relatively little focus on energy poverty as an area of concern within the ‘humanitarian sphere’ (2). Although energy services underpin many of the needs of those forcibly displaced by emergency situations, from cooking and heating to medical care and communication, the humanitarian agencies designated to care for them are ill equipped to meet these needs (3).

By some estimates, 80% of the 8.7 million refugees and displaced people in camps have no access to electricity (4). Energy expenditure for cooking and lighting by displaced people is estimated to be around $200 per year per household causing significant stresses on economic activities and livelihoods. Despite this, it has been found that widespread introduction of improved cookstoves and basic solar lanterns could save $303 million a year in fuel costs (5). Larger sources of power, such as diesel gen sets, are usually the main source of power for camp facilities and refugee enterprises with high per kWh costs due to transport of fuel to remote locations, inefficient loading and poor maintenance, as well as climate and environmental impacts.

One opportunity to address this energy poverty is through the use mini-/micro-grids to provide more established refugee camps and settlements with their own, continuous power supply. As such, adapted to a camp setting, mini-/micro-grids can generate many benefits for camp inhabitants, hosts, camp operators, and for the environment. Yet their adoption in humanitarian settings remains limited due to a shortage of information as well as lack of awareness, resources and capacity within in the humanitarian system to evaluate, plan and manage the provision of mini-/microgrids.

Plan International Canada is working in a number of humanitarian settings across Africa. Having reliable, affordable and accessible energy would improve the impact and sustainability of our programs. To date no technologies have been identified to meet the humanitarian need associated with Plan International’s response in refugee camps. This proposal would help to identify and design solar needs and provide the design and testing of a potential mini-grid with low implementation costs, high ability to scale, and simple operations and maintenance. Plan International works to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty is based around eight core areas: education, health, water and sanitation, economic security, child protection, humanitarian response, youth participation, and health. Plan works in more than 52 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Partnering with University of Toronto will provide technical support to Plan International’s programming and will allow for significant opportunity to scale any potential solution or innovation across our current projects.

  1. UNDP Sustainable Development Goals (2015). http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/brochure/SDGs_Booklet_Web_En.pdf

  2. R. Bellanca. Sustainable Energy Provision among Displaced Populations: Policy and Practice, Chatham Housethe Royal Institute of International Affairs, London (2014).

  3. G. Lahn, O. Grafham. Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs, Chatham Housethe Royal Institute of International Affairs, London (2015).

  4. Lahn, G. & Grafham, O. (2015) Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs, Chatham House for the Moving Energy Initiative. mei.chathamhouse.org/resources/

  5. J Lehne, W Blyth, G, M Bazilian, and Grafham. Energy services for refugees and displaced people, Energy Strategy Reviews (Volumes 13–14, 2016)