According to the UNHCR, 2.6 million refugees have been living in camps for over five years. While the distress of their predicament cannot be understated, several low-cost technologies are helping them find some level of comfort and solace.
Solar energy is the thread linking them together. Solar Pico Systems (SPS) are cheaper than traditional photovoltaic systems because they use much smaller compact and lightweight solar panels to generate a small amount of electricity to power low energy-requirement objects such as lamps or mobile phones.
SPS are plug and play and generally cost under USD 200.The development of SPS goes hand in hand with the increasing use of light emitting diode (LED) technology: LEDs can provide bright electric light with very little electric power and are much more efficient than conventional incandescent lamps.
Rechargeable batteries are also part of the mix. Lithium-ion batteries may still be a little expensive, but they have a high energy density allowing for additional charge/discharge cycles. They are also small and provide comparatively great energy efficiency.
There are two types of SPS available: Pico solar lanterns, which provide light but can also provide energy to charge a mobile phone or operate a radio and Pico PV Home Systems, which can provide energy for several lights, mobile phones and radios. The advantage of Home Systems is that they are scalable and can meet growing electrical demands.
SPS technology is already improving the lives of refugees as it replaces dangerous, expensive and toxic kerosene lights in camps around the world. Examples abound, starting with the work accomplished by the Global Bright Light foundation, a non-profit outfit which aims to bring safe, healthy and cost-effective solar power to people living without access to electricity.
The foundation has helped refugees in the Kiziba camp adjacent to Lake Kivu in Rwanda get access to light by supplying them with solar lanterns. As a result, women and children in the camp felt safer, especially when they had to use the camp latrines at night time.
Similarly, IKEA has teamed up with the UNHCR through its not-for-profit foundation to provide a flat-pack self-assembly refugee shelter equipped with a solar panel roof. The pack fits into 2 boxes and can be assembled by 4 people in 4 hours following the Swedish company’s familiar picture-based instructions.
The solar roof provides four hours of electric light or mobile phone charging via a USB port. The shelter, which is made of insulated polypropylene panels, costs USD 1250.
While this is more expensive than a tent, it provides a secure, weather resistant shelter which will last at least three years. Médecins Sans Frontières employed the shelters as clinics following the deadly 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Many are used in Iraq and in Djibouti for refugees fleeing Yemen.
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