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Private Sector Companies Join Hands to Support Refugees’ Access to Clean Energy

Private Sector Joins Clean Energy Drive for Africa's Refugees

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Solar Energy
A miniature solar energy panel at the Refugee Forum in Geneva. VOA

By Lisa Bryant

In northern Ethiopia, tens of thousands of mostly Eritrean refugees are getting connected to families back home, partly thanks to last year’s peace deal between Addis Ababa and Asmara, but also to clean energy.

A Spanish alliance that includes three power companies is linking refugee camps in Shire, near the border with Eritrea, to the country’s energy grid, which largely relies on hydropower. The next step is equipping refugee households with solar energy.

“It’s a catalyst,” said Javier Mazorra, partnership coordinator for the group, Alianza Shire. “You need energy for health, for education, for protection, especially for women.”

Humanitarians hope what is happening in Shire will someday become the new normal, amounting to a game changer for refugees, 90% of whom have limited access to electricity, according to the United Nations. Indeed, energy access counted among key issues addressed this week at a global refugee forum in Geneva, with Africa considered a top priority.

“The current situation in Africa is pretty poor, pathetic,” said Andrew Harper, climate action special adviser for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which co-hosted the meeting.

Often refugees have a single solution, “which is going to surrounding forests, woodland, and cutting it down,” Harper said.

Greening Africa’s energy 

refugees energy
Climate action special adviser Andrew Harper of UNHCR, which has launched a sustainable energy strategy for its refugee camps. VOA

The refugee agency has launched a four-year strategy to transition to clean energy in all of its camps, although Harper offered no fixed deadline or price tag for doing so. A UNHCR-sponsored report out this week also found renewable energy to be a cost-effective and reliable energy source for refugees.

For Africa in particular, the stakes are high — inside and outside refugee settings. Along with Asia, it has among the world’s highest rates of reliance on charcoal and firewood. Adding in charcoal exports, that has translated into massive deforestation in parts of the continent.

Firewood- and charcoal-based energy also carry myriad other problems, posing health risks from smoky fires and security threats for women collecting charcoal, and heightening tensions between refugees and host communities who also rely on the fast-thinning trees.

Kathleen Callaghy clean energy
Kathleen Callaghy of NGO Clean Cooking Alliance believes the private sector should partner with humanitarian efforts in bringing clean energy to refugees. VOA

Many of these problems can be seen in East Africa, home to some of the continent’s largest refugee communities.

“There are some energy solutions,” said Kathleen Callaghy, senior humanitarian program associate for Clean Cooking Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. “But the funding, the political will and the capacity of organizations in the humanitarian community is not enough to sustain or expand these projects over time.”

In drought-prone Ethiopia, the government launched a massive reforestation initiative that saw more than 350 million trees planted countrywide in a single day.

“This challenge is one of the prominent challenges we have,” he said, adding host communities are facing the fallout.

Convincing private sector

Energy drive
Fisseha Meseret Kindie, of Ethopia’s refugee agency, says the country needs support to develop clean energy for the refugees it hosts. VOA

Transitioning to green energy in Africa will mean tapping a private sector that may be wary of investing in refugees and a continent deemed risky.

“Quite honestly, there’s very little in it for them right now,” Callagh, of the Clean Cooking Alliance, said, suggesting alliances with humanitarian agencies as the way forward.

But for Mazorra, of Alianza Shire, the payback is more than financial.

“There are a lot of incentives,” he said, including learning to operate in risky settings. “When you are struggling with really poor resource situations, innovation is key. And there are some innovations that could go back to Spain.”

Harper, of UNHCR, believes there’s another, broader case to be made.

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“We’re basically saying the market for this in Africa is not just 6, 7 million refugees,” he said. “It’s 1.2 billion people. We’ve got to look at it as much more part of the rural electrification process across the continent.” (VOA)

Next Story

Next Generation Storage Technology May Help EVs and Phones Charge Faster

New tech may make EVs, phones charge quickly, run longer

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Charge EV
Next-generation energy storage technology can help charge your electric cars in almost 10 minutes. Pixabay

Imagine needing less than 10 minutes to fully-charge your electric car or just two minutes for your phone and it lasting the whole day. This could soon be possible with a next-generation energy storage technology that researchers have developed.

While at the proof-of-concept stage, it shows enormous potential as a portable power supply in several practical applications including electric vehicles, phones and wearable technology

The discovery, published in the journal Nature Energy, overcomes the issue faced by high-powered, fast-charging supercapacitors — that they usually cannot hold a large amount of energy in a small space.

Charge phone
With this technology, your mobile phone would be fully charged in almost 2 minutes. Pixabay

“Our new supercapacitor is extremely promising for next-generation energy storage technology as either a replacement for current battery technology, or for use alongside it, to provide the user with more power,” first author of the study Zhuangnan Li from University College London.

“We designed materials which would give our supercapacitor a high power density — that is how fast it can charge or discharge — and a high energy density — which will determine how long it can run for. Normally, you can only have one of these characteristics but our supercapacitor provides both, which is a critical breakthrough,” Li added.

“Moreover, the supercapacitor can bend to 180 degrees without affecting performance and doesn’t use a liquid electrolyte, which minimises any risk of explosion and makes it perfect for integrating into bendy phones or wearable electronics,” Li said.

A team of chemists, engineers and physicists worked on the new design, which uses an innovative graphene electrode material with pores that can be changed in size to store the charge more efficiently.

Charge EV
“We designed materials which would give our supercapacitor a high power density — that is how fast it can charge or discharge,” said first author of the study Zhuangnan Li from University College London. (Representational Image) Pixabay

This tuning maximises the energy density of the supercapacitor to a record 88.1 Wh/L (Watt-hour per litre), which is the highest ever reported energy density for carbon-based supercapacitors, the study said.

Similar fast-charging commercial technology has a relatively poor energy density of 5-8 Wh/L and traditional slow-charging but long-running lead-acid batteries used in electric vehicles typically have 50-90 Wh/L.

While the supercapacitor developed by the team has a comparable energy density to state-of-the-art value of lead-acid batteries, its power density is two orders of magnitude higher at over 10,000 Watt per litre.

“Successfully storing a huge amount of energy safely in a compact system is a significant step towards improved energy storage technology. We have shown it charges quickly, we can control its output and it has excellent durability and flexibility, making it ideal for development for use in miniaturised electronics and electric vehicles,” senior author and Dean of UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences, Professor Ivan Parkin, said.

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The researchers made electrodes from multiple layers of graphene, creating a dense, but porous material capable of trapping charged ions of different sizes. They characterised it using a range of techniques and found it performed best when the pore sizes matched the diameter of the ions in the electrolyte.

The optimised material, which forms a thin film, was used to build a proof-of-concept device with both a high power and high energy density. (IANS)