The first 2MW of a 5MW solar PV plant purpose-built to power a camp housing 20,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan has been switched on, marking a world first and underscoring the vital importance of renewable energy technologies in meeting the world’s rapidly changing electrification needs.
The newly constructed €8.75 million plant (pictured below), which was funded entirely by the IKEA Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, was switched on at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp on Wednesday by UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
According to the UNHCR website, the new solar farm – the world’s first to be built in a refugee setting – will supply power to the almost 5,000 shelters in Azraq camp for the first time in two-and-a-half years, allowing each to connect a fridge, a TV, a fan, have light and charge their phones.
Before this, refugees had been restricted to the use of solar lanterns distributed on their arrival, and street lights installed in one of the villages, both also funded by the IKEA Foundation.
As well as power, the PV plant has also given provided employment and new skills to some at the camp, with more than 50 refugees trained and working to help build the solar farm by Jordanian solar company Mustakbal.
The plant will also allow UNHCR to provide electricity free of cost, generating savings – estimated at $US1.5 million a year – that can be invested in other areas of need.
Once the solar plant is upgraded to 5MW, and operating at full capacity, it will increase these savings and cover all of Azraq’s energy needs.
The plant is also connected to Jordan’s national grid, which means that any extra electricity generated will be sent back free of cost, supporting the host community energy needs and contributing to the Middle Eastern nation’s plan to have a “green economy” by 2020.
“Today marks a milestone,” said UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements on Wednesday.
“Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement; it provides a safer environment for all camp residents, opens up livelihoods opportunities, and gives children the chance to study after dark,” she said.
“Above all, it allows all residents of the camps to lead more dignified lives.
“Once again the partnership between IKEA Foundation and UNHCR has shown how we can embrace new technologies, innovation and humanity while helping refugees.”
Providing renewable energy sources to refugees and their host communities is one of the priorities for UNHCR globally, the organisation says, and it relies heavily on partnerships with global companies like IKEA.
Through its Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, the IKEA Foundation has raised €30.8 million for UNHCR projects to fund renewable energy and education for refugees.
“The world’s first solar farm in a refugee camp signals a paradigm shift in how the humanitarian sector supports displaced populations,” said IKEA Foundation CEO Per Heggenes of the project.
“UNHCR Jordan will save millions of dollars, while reducing carbon emissions and improving living conditions for some of the world’s most vulnerable children and families,” he said.