Moving towards energy resilience within Jordan’s refugee crisis

One of Jordan's many solar energy projects
Photo courtesy of Mustakbal Clean Tech

While recent news has heralded the launch of Jordan’s largest solar farm to date, a much more significant transformation has begun to sweep across the country. Jordan stands out in the Middle East and North Africa for creating and beginning to implement a national resilience strategy.

In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the government of Jordan adopted a National Resilience Plan (NRP) in 2013. As highlighted in the Moving Energy Initiative’s report on Refugees and Energy Resilience in Jordan, the NRP seeks to harmonize Jordan’s existing energy and water initiatives with humanitarian response efforts and funding. With high energy tariffs, established policy frameworks and targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency transformation,  and a strong private energy services sector, Jordan is an ideal context to pilot and scale-up energy resilience projects for refugees. Jordan’s portfolio of renewable energy projects includes small-scale solutions, such as solar panels and solar water heaters for schools, mosques, and family homes, as well as large-scale solar farms throughout the country.

As part of this energy resilience strategy, millions of dollars in international funding have been set aside to provide renewable energy for Syrians living in Jordan’s two largest refugee camps. These projects will bring solar energy farms and waste to energy solutions to the Zaatari and Azraq camps, which house over 100,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. (Camp populations tend to be transient, so sources vary on the exact numbers.) The first phase of the Azraq solar project was expected to come online before the end of 2016, improving the lives of refugees by providing electricity for light, cooking, charging cell phones, and much more.

Less attention has been given to how energy efficiency or distributed, small-scale solar energy can benefit Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s urban areas. Over 70% of the estimated 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan live in in urban areas, with the majority located in Amman and Irbid, the two largest cities. Two-thirds live below the poverty line, with many unable to afford access to energy year-round.

Energy efficiency and small-scale solar energy, such as rooftop PV, solar water heaters, and other modular solutions, may help refugees in urban areas secure energy access, benefiting families economically and socially while creating lasting environmental impact. At the same time, these projects have the potential to strengthen Jordan’s clean energy industry, creating jobs for both Jordanian nationals and Syrian refugees.

As part of a larger EU-funded energy resilience project, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) negotiated with landlords to install solar water heaters for refugee families in Irbid. This small-scale project resulted in 30% reductions for the families’ rent and 40-50% reductions in their electricity bills. Other rooftop solar projects across Jordan have led to 40-90% reductions in household electricity bills.

As one stakeholder interviewed by the Moving Energy Initiative’s research team so clearly put it, more investment has been made in the camps than the urban areas without considering the trade-offs: “If the money that was invested in Zaatari and Azraq [refugee camps] was invested in the cities and towns instead – what would have been the result?” The most cost-effective interventions to support energy resilience for refugees in Jordan are still unknown.

While Jordan has undoubtably made unprecedented progress towards adopting energy and water resilience strategies, opportunities to diversify and innovate services in the urban areas should not be overlooked. Energy efficiency and solar energy solutions for refugees in urban areas may be more complex to initiate, develop, and scale-up. While the solar farms for the Azraq and Zaatari camps will pay for themselves within two to four years, the return on investment for funding small-scale, distributed energy projects is less clear.  However, initiation of more pilot projects and mapping and evaluation of ongoing projects will help  capture the expected socio-economic and environmental impacts. Innovative financing mechanisms for small-scale projects should also be identified and explored.

It may also make sense to promote energy and water resilience projects for other vulnerable communities in Jordan, such as Palestinian and Sudanese refugees as well as Jordan’s indigenous black communities. As Jordan’s national resilience plan continues to unfold and expand, we should seek to determine whether or not these interventions are transferable and replicable within other contexts of forced displacement across the MENA region.

Sources:

Ghazal, M. (2014) Switching to solar power saves owners 90% of electricity costs, Jordan Times.

Lahn, G., Grafham, O. & Sparr, A. E. (2016) Refugees and Energy Resilience in Jordan, publication of Chatham House.

Maaytah, M., Khawaja, M. S. & Heffner, G. (2016) Mercy Corps 2013-2014 Photovoltaic Project Impact Evaluation, publication of USAID.

Pyper, J. (2015) Solar Power to Light Up Syrian Refugee Camps in Jordan, Greentech Media.


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