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Renewables as a Reliable Power Source in Refugee Settlements

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On-site renewable energy solutions can cost-effectively supply refugee communities with low-cost, reliable electricity, according to the findings of a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in cooperation with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. There are currently almost 26 million refugees in the world today. Unreliable energy exposes them to additional and associated risks which renewables can serve to overcome.

Renewables for refugee settlements: Sustainable energy access in humanitarian situations, released at the Global Refugee Forum currently taking place in Geneva, examines the energy needs at refugee camps and identifies renewables-based solutions for four sites in Iraq and Ethiopia. Solar mini-grids in particular, are highlighted as being able to boost the efficiency of humanitarian operations, avoid costly diesel consumption, and support recently arrived refugees with immediate, reliable electricity access.

The report was launched as both organisations agreed in a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance their existing cooperation on promoting renewable energy solutions for the improvement of the humanitarian situation for millions of people displaced from their homes today. 

“In line with our Global Strategy for Sustainable Energy, we aim to ensure that refugees can meet their basic energy needs in exile while also minimizing environmental degradation. Sustainable energy access will bridge this gap, enabling refugees to pursue education, supporting businesses and social enterprises, spurring innovation and exponentially enhancing the safety and well-being of people and communities, until such time that they can return home,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. “This report and this new partnership between IRENA and UNHCR, is the beginning of an important alliance to mainstream access to energy for refugees and displaced people as well as their local communities, ensuring that they are not left behind.” 

“Renewables can quickly and effectively change the lives of refugees for the better,” added IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera. “Off-grid and grid connected small and medium sized solar installations are available, affordable and can bring reliable power to millions of displaced people around the world. We are looking forward to closely work and support UNHCR in its effort to protect life in humanitarian situations. Renewable solutions could become essential to the humanitarian toolkit.”

The study contributes to UNHCR’s Global Strategy for Sustainable Energy 2019-2024 and highlights prime opportunities to strengthen any humanitarian operation which can be replicated in other similar situations.

Findings and recommendations of the new report are based on data collected from field missions to the Darashakran and Domiz camps in Iraq and Tsore and Sherkole in Ethiopia. It concludes that in Iraq, blackouts and brownouts remain frequent even at grid-connected settlements, leaving refugees and the humanitarian community dependent on expensive, polluting diesel generators. In Ethiopia, most refugees lack any reliable access to electric lighting. Stand-alone solar systems with battery banks could cushion the impact of voltage fluctuations on the grid. Larger solar parks could provide electricity in and around settlements, as well as creating an enduring asset for host communities. Download Renewables for refugee settlements: Sustainable energy access in humanitarian situations

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Seven Countries Account for Two-Thirds of Global Gas Flaring

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In an unprecedented year for the oil and gas industry, oil production declined by 8% in 2020, while global gas flaring reduced by 5%, according to satellite data compiled by the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR). Oil production dropped from 82 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2019 to 76 million b/d in 2020, as global gas flaring reduced from 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2019 to 142 bcm in 2020. Nonetheless, the world still flared enough gas to power sub-Saharan Africa. The United States accounted for 70% of the global decline, with gas flaring falling by 32% from 2019 to 2020, due to an 8% drop in oil production, combined with new infrastructure to use gas that would otherwise be flared.

Gas flaring satellite data from 2020 reveals that Russia, Iraq, Iran, the United States, Algeria, Venezuela and Nigeria remain the top seven gas flaring countries for nine years running, since the first satellite was launched in 2012. These seven countries produce 40% of the world’s oil each year, but account for roughly two-thirds (65%) of global gas flaring. This trend is indicative of ongoing, though differing, challenges facing these countries. For example, the United States has thousands of individual flare sites, difficult to connect to a market, while a few high flaring oil fields in East Siberia in the Russian Federation are extremely remote, lacking the infrastructure to capture and transport the associated gas.

Gas flaring, the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction, takes place due to a range of issues, from market and economic constraints, to a lack of appropriate regulation and political will. The practice results in a range of pollutants released into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon (soot). The methane emissions from gas flaring contribute significantly to global warming in the short to medium term, because methane is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide on a 20-year basis.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, oil-dependent developing countries are feeling the pinch, with constrained revenues and budgets. But with gas flaring still releasing over 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year, now is the time for action. We must forge ahead with plans to dramatically reduce the direct emissions of the oil and gas sector, including from gas flaring,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, Global Director for the Energy and Extractives Global Practice at the World Bank.

The World Bank’s GGFR is a trust fund and partnership of governments, oil companies, and multilateral organizations working to end routine gas flaring at oil production sites around the world. GGFR, in partnership with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Colorado School of Mines, has developed global gas flaring estimates based upon observations from two satellites, launched in 2012 and 2017. The advanced sensors of these satellites detect the heat emitted by gas flares as infrared emissions at global upstream oil and gas facilities.

“Awareness of gas flaring as a critical climate and resource management issue is greater than ever before. Almost 80 governments and oil companies have committed to Zero Routine Flaring within the next decade and some are also joining our global partnership, which is a very positive development. Gas flaring reduction projects require significant investment and take several years to produce results. In the lead-up to the next UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow, we continue to call upon oil-producing country governments and companies to place gas flaring reduction at the center of their climate action plans. To save the world from millions of tons of emissions a year, this 160-year-old industry practice must now come to an end.” said Zubin Bamji, Program Manager of the World Bank’s GGFR Partnership Trust Fund.

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IEA supports Indonesia’s plans for deploying renewable energy

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The IEA is carrying out a large work programme on power system enhancement with the Government of Indonesia to help it modernise the country’s electricity sector, including support for overcoming challenges inherent in integrating variable renewables like wind and solar PV.

As part of the work programme, the IEA hosted a series of webinars in early 2021 where Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and national power utility PLN could learn from other countries’ experiences of integrating and setting targets for variable renewable energy.

An introductory session on the principles of integrating renewable energy was held ahead of the country specific sessions. In this session, the IEA presented its framework for renewable integration phases to the Ministry and PLN, highlighting the different challenges often faced during renewable integration as well as what flexibility options can be deployed to tackle these challenges.

In the first country session, IEA presented the main findings of the Thailand flexibility study that the Agency carried out in cooperation with EGAT, the Thai electricity utility. The study shows that Thailand has the technical capability to integrate larger shares of variable renewables, but that the lack of commercial flexibility is a major barrier for operating the power system in a more flexible way and thus is the main obstacle for integrating large amounts of renewables.

In the second country session, the Danish Energy Agency presented its work programme with the Government of Viet Nam. The sessions focused on important aspects for integration of renewables, such as the assessing the needs and implications of reserves and forecasting. The session also included a discussion on the main learning points from the boom in rooftop solar that Viet Nam has experienced in 2020. 

The third and last country session was on India. The IEA presented both national as well as state-level modelling in order to show some of the contextual differences between national models and models that focus on specific geographical regions. In India, the spot market accounts for only 10% of electricity generation, which shows that India, like Thailand, has some issues with commercial flexibility. The discussion also covered India’s level of dependency on physical power purchase agreements and its impacts on the flexibility of the power system.

All sessions were held behind closed doors to allow for an open discussion between the participating organisations on the issues of renewable integration and possible ways of addressing barriers. The IEA will continue the work with the Indonesian Ministry and PLN on this topic in order to facilitate a path towards a clean, affordable, secure and modern power sector in Indonesia.

This work in Indonesia is undertaken within the Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme.

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Bangladesh Solar Home Systems Provide Clean Energy for 20 million People

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Bangladesh has the largest off-grid solar power program in the worldwhich offers experiences and lessons for other countries to expand access to clean and affordable electricity. By harnessing solar power, the program enabled 20 million Bangladeshis to access electricity.

The book, “Living in the Light- The Bangladesh Solar Home System Story”, launched today, documents how off-grid solar electrification was mainstreamed to a large segment of the population living in rural areas. Starting in 2003 as a 50,000 household pilot, the program at its peak, provided electricity to approximately 16 percent of the rural population.

“Bangladesh is known for its innovative development approaches. In remote and hard to reach areas, the government successfully introduced affordable off-grid renewable energy solutions through a public-private partnership. Clean electricity meant better health and living conditions for families and more study time for children,” said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “Our partnership with the government for this program spans nearly two decades, and now our support has expanded to include other renewable energy options.”

Successive financing through the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED) Project, the World Bank supported the Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) to implement the program. IDCOL combined its expertise in infrastructure financing with Bangladesh’s pioneering work in micro-financing and private sector solar electrification initiatives to build a scalable off-grid electrification business model.  

“Our government is committed to driving up renewable energy and has a host of incentives such as tax breaks on offer to drive net-metered solar rooftop installation. As a business model Net Metering System is going to be popular day by day,” said Nasrul Hamid, Honorable State Minister, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, who attended the launching ceremony as the chief guest. He added, “Solar home systems (SHS) program has been critically important in achieving the ‘electricity for all’ vision. Under the leadership of  Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, electrification of Grid area has already been completed and the whole country will be electrified within the ‘Mujib-year’.”

Between 2003 to 2018, the project reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 9.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The program helped reduce indoor air pollution by avoiding the consumption of 4.4 billion liters of kerosene.

“The RERED I and II projects promoted a sustainable market-driven approach where clean energy solutions were provided by local entrepreneurs with financing from IDCOL. 58 non-government organizations supplied and installed the solar home systems made affordable with micro-loans,” said Amit Jain, Senior Energy Specialist, World Bank and a co-author of the report. “The SHS Program demonstrated that millions of dollars mobilized at the international level can flow efficiently to the remotest corners of the country to offer loans in amounts as low as one hundred dollars, which enables a rural household to purchase a solar home system.”

Building on the success of the program, the World Bank extended support to scale up other clean renewable energy options including solar irrigation, solar mini-grids, roof-top solar, and solar farms. The World Bank financing in two consecutive RERED projects stands at $726 million.

The book analyzes the SHS Program’s organizational effectiveness, how partners were mobilized, how quality was enforced, how risks were mitigated, and how financial resources were raised and deployed as Bangladesh scaled up renewable energy use. It shares experiences and lessons that would be useful for other countries as they scale up solar off-grid electrification programs. 

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