The world's first solar-powered refugee camp

via Devex YouTube channel

In the sprawling refugee camp that now dominates the desert landscape of Azraq in Jordan, many refugees have lived without consistent access to power for more than a year. The protracted nature of the Syrian civil war means that those working in the camp are looking for long-term solutions to this and other challenges — a focus of many on World Refugee Day.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and its partner, the IKEA Foundation, are hoping they’ve found a way to provide power to the camp’s 35,000 residents — from the sun.

As part of its Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, the IKEA Foundation began offering solar lamps to residents in Azraq, which became essential for everything from cooking and studying, to safe access to water and sanitation.

Yet the lamps, though essential, only illuminated the broader challenge of life without a consistent power grid.

As a result, IKEA invested 8.75 million euros ($9.75 million) into creating an onsite solar plant, which now saves UNHCR more than 1.2 million euros ($1.4 million) per year in energy costs and reduces carbon dioxide emissions from the camp by 2,370 tons per year.

“Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement; it provides a safer environment for all camp residents, opens up livelihood opportunities and gives children the chance to study after dark,” said Kelly T. Clements, UNHCR deputy high commissioner for refugees.

The solar farm, which also created 50 jobs for refugees living in the camp, now covers about two-thirds of the residents’ needs. When it upgrades from 2 to 5 megawatts in production later this year, it will cover the entire camp and begin returning money to the Jordanian local energy authority, a UNHCR statement said.

IKEA Foundation Chief Executive Officer Per Heggenes spoke to Devex in Jordan about how the growth of the solar farm has surprised and shaped the foundation, and why he believes this project sets the bar for the private sector’s role in solving a complex, long-term issue. Watch the interview in the video above.

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About the authors

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
  • Naomi Mihara

    Naomi Mihara is a Video Journalist for Devex, based in Barcelona. She has a background in journalism and international development, having previously worked as an assistant correspondent for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and as a communications officer for the International Organization for Migration in Southeast Asia. She holds a master's degree in multimedia journalism from Bournemouth University.