Somali students at the Kobe Primary Refugee School in Kobe, Ethiopia, have benefited from the solar mini-grids that have been installed. ©UNHCR/Victorine van Beuningen.

Ifrah Ismail (13), Somali student, is one of the students who benefitted from the solar mini grids implemented in two schools at Kobe refugee settlement in Ethiopia. The solar mini-grids have enabled the setting up of two fans in each classroom for ventilation, circulating air and cooling the temperature, improving the education environment in an area that experiences extreme weather conditions. 

The first refugees from Somalia arrived in the Dollo Ado and Bokolmayo districts in Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region in 2009. Today, around 341,500 refugees and host community members reside across the five refugee settlements in the area namely Buramino, Kobe, Melkadida, Hilaweyn and Bokolmayo. While the settlements are transforming into urban centers as the population increases, the living conditions are still challenging.

The area is characterized by high temperatures and is increasingly experiencing longer and more severe droughts. Access to basic services like energy, food, water, shelter, and health is limited. The drought, rising commodity prices, and conflict significantly impact people’s lives and livelihoods. The situation also puts school-aged children at risk of not completing their education, engaging in the informal labour market or early marriage.

“Education is the light, and ignorance is the darkness. We hope new light will keep coming. Because with education, we can survive”, Ifrah Ismail.

Ifrah Ismail goes to Kobe Primary School 1 in Kobe refugee settlement. It is one of the 21 primary schools across the five growing refugee settlements in the region. The area is hot, dry and remote – with temperatures that average 45 degrees Celsius and parched land from a drought that has affected this area for three years. The rains that the area has received recently have done little to compensate for the failed rains.

There is no connection with the national electricity grid that is over 350 kilometers away. Most school buildings  are dilapidated under the extreme hot and dry weather conditions.

Drought results in income loss and food insecurity, which in turn puts children at specific protection risks such as forced marriage or child labour. This negatively affects school enrolment, which has dropped from 40% to 33% amongst refugee children.

But the scorching sun can also create possibilities. The high average of sunlight has major potential to generate solar energy to address urgent electricity needs including in schools. In this sense, two primary schools in Kobe have been provided with solar mini grids enabling the installation of cooling fans in classrooms as well as school equipment to help teachers and instructors conduct their classes. In addition, four electric kitchens (two per school) have been installed to help provide school lunches for the students.

©UNHCR/Habon Osman Aden.

“Since the ventilation came around three months ago, you can feel the difference. It is a bit cooler and more comfortable in the classrooms and you can see the children smiling and paying more attention to what the teachers are saying,” says Issack Imam Issaele, Director of Kobe Primary School 1. “It makes me happy that the ventilation is helping them concentrate and learn”.

Ifrah is passionate when she talks about her education. “I like going to school. We are lucky that out of all the schools here, our school has ventilation now. And I am grateful for the teachers that are here to come and teach us every day. Every day after school, I teach them [her youngest siblings] everything I learned.”

The project has been funded by the European Union, through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), in the framework of the Alianza Shire project. It has been implemented by UNHCR, working in partnership with Save the Environment Ethiopia (SEE) and the state-owned Refugee and Returnee Services (RRS).

Alianza Shire is in the process of distributing 2,000 photovoltaic home systems to provide access to basic electricity to 13,500 people in the Hilaweyn refugee camp.

These 12Vdc systems consist of a photovoltaic panel, battery and controller integrated into a single unit, LED lamps and connectors for charging and operating compatible electrical appliances. With this equipment it is possible, for example, to charge two mobile phones, torches, run a fan for four hours and watch TV for three hours during the day. And at night, the battery storage allows two LED lights to be used for five hours, TV to be watched and a fan to be operated for two hours.

In order for these benefits to be offered and for households to be able to take full advantage of them, on the one hand, the distribution of the systems must be accompanied by training to provide the beneficiary population with knowledge about installation, basic maintenance and the conditions for these services, and on the other hand, through training for the entities that are responsible for the systems and their maintenance.

The training workshops began last June, coinciding with a field mission by technicians from Alianza Shire of, AECID and itdUPM, and will continue over the coming weeks until the supply of the 2,000 systems is completed.

Considering the actors of the management model developed to provide access to electricity (and designed based on the experience of, the first training was given to members of the local energy cooperative Murukmale in the Hilaweyn region.

This training session focused on the fundamentals of the technological, economic and management model and its role as a system supplier, with the process of delivering the equipment to the beneficiary population.

In addition, aspects of preventive and corrective maintenance were addressed, along with the sale of compatible electrical appliances and business and commercial management, among others, such as the operation of the Pay-As-You-Go platform that will be used to manage the availability of electricity, which is necessary for the role of the person responsible for proximity care, technical support and maintenance of the systems.

Training was also provided for the trainers, i.e., the teams from the implementing partner organisations in the field, mainly Save the Environment Ethiopia (SEE), which is responsible for the household photovoltaic systems, so that in the coming months, together with the distribution of these systems by the cooperative to the beneficiary population, they can transmit the main keys for the operation of the equipment and the management and economic models.

The training for these organisations was complemented by a practical workshop in which, in addition to these, 20 people from the refugee camp and the Hilaweyn host community took part. Not only was the operation and installation of the system and everything related to the management and economic model explained, but the users also went on to pay their contributions for the first time to MFI; the microfinance institution with which the energy cooperative has opened an account to process the contributions from the beneficiary households.



At the end of the training of trainers, and as a kick-off for the next training session for the beneficiary population, a ceremony was held to inaugurate this phase of the training and distribution project, attended by authorities from UNHCR, RRS, Woreda and Kebelle, as well as ZOA, SEE, the energy cooperative,, AECID and itdUPM.

The event and the first training session for the beneficiary population, in which the organisations put into practice what they had learned, culminated in the signing of the first contracts between the beneficiaries and the cooperative, the delivery of the receipt for payment of the first instalment, and the generation of the first pay-as-you-go code to be entered into the photovoltaic system, which was then handed over to the representative of each household for installation. The introduction of this code in the system allows the energy generated to be available for the period paid for, which is one month.

The training workshops for the beneficiary population will continue over the coming months until the distribution of the 2,000 home photovoltaic systems has been completed. It is expected that at least the same number of people will participate, with an overall impact on the 13,500 people in Hilaweyn who will benefit from the electricity service they provide.

At Alianza Shire, we are making it possible for 2,000 households in the Hilaweyn refugee camp to have sustainable, long-lasting and affordable household access to electricity.

How? With an innovative energy delivery model based on the previous experience of the Foundation, an Alianza Shire member specialising in bringing energy access to difficult environments.

Like other models of electricity service provision under’s global rural electrification initiative “Luz en Casa”, the one developed for this project is based on a technological model with third-generation household photovoltaic systems, a multi-stakeholder management model involving all stakeholders and an economic model based on affordability and sustainability criteria.

The multi-stakeholder management model, key to sustainability

The management model developed, which is adapted to the specific context of the Hilaweyn refugee camp, is remarkable. Designing it has required extensive and detailed information provided by the local population and organisations present in the camp. There has been a continuous dialogue with the different actors, through which, finally, the ecosystem of organisations necessary to develop and support the model has been created.

In this regard, five main actors have been involved: the beneficiary population, the Murukmale Energy Cooperative of Hilaweyn, the NGO Save the Environment Ethiopia (SEE), a photovoltaic electrification committee (CEF), and an Advisory Council.

The users benefit from the electricity provided by the systems, and are committed to complying with the conditions of this electricity service in order to contribute to its sustainability. The energy cooperative is responsible for supplying the systems to the beneficiary population and subsequently providing them with technical assistance services.

The NGO SEE remains the owner and is responsible for the systems, contracting the energy cooperative to manage the technical services with its support and supervision, while providing assistance to the Photovoltaic Electrification Committee.

What exactly is the role of the Photovoltaic Electrification Committee (CEF)? It is the representative body of the beneficiary population. Its members are volunteers elected by and among the users through a vote, and its main function is the interlocution between the beneficiary population, the energy cooperative and SEE.

And the Advisory Council? A role created specifically for Hilaweyn, the Advisory Council is composed of one representative from each of the following organisations involved:, AECID, UNHCR, SSE, RRS (Ethiopian government department for refugees) and two local authorities. It is responsible for overseeing the proper implementation of the delivery model, as well as authorising key strategic or operational issues affecting the delivery model.

Economic sustainability, a pillar of the initiative’s success

Previously, it was indicated that users are committed to complying with the conditions of the electricity service they receive in order to contribute to its sustainability. Conditions involve making good use of the system and contributing a small fee.

What is the fee for? Households contribute a monthly fee that enables them to use the energy generated by the system, while at the same time helping to cover the operating, maintenance and replacement costs that SEE contracts with the energy cooperative. These tasks are what ensure the systems’ operability and, therefore, long-term sustainability.

The fee has been set taking into account the usual criterion of being lower than the previous energy expense. After ascertaining that 98% of households in the Hilaweyn refugee camp have no access to electricity, a socio-economic survey identified that households in the camp spent 17% of their income on energy, about 580 birr on average, and in the host communities 13%, about 890 birr. Based on this data, the general fee was set at 300 birr and, in addition, a fee of 10 birr was set for vulnerable users and 100 birr for CEF members.

This ensures affordability, which facilitates fundraising and, therefore, that the beneficiary population itself facilitates the sustainability of the project. The model has been designed with the objective of ensuring the sustainability of the project for at least the next ten years.

This sustainability can only be achieved with the permanent commitment of all stakeholders. This commitment is based on the training and support that Alianza Shire and its partners are offering to the different actors, so that they have the tools with which to assume the responsibilities described here in an informed manner and carry them out appropriately.

Last April, Alianza Shire contributed to the 4th International Conference on Solar Technologies and Hybrid Mini-grids to Improve Energy Access with two interventions, organised by the University of the Balearic Islands from 26 to 28 April in Palma de Mallorca.

Sonia Ramos, a member of the itdUPM team, was in charge of presenting the two abstracts, which analyse the evidence and data collected in the refugee camps of both Shire and Dollo Ado, and delve into the feasibility of solutions in two areas: e-Cooking (solar cooking) through a solar mini-grid in public institutions in refugee camps, and the gender gap in energy use for small businesses in displacement settings.

Access to Energy for e-Cooking in Public Institutions of Displacement Settings through a Solar Mini-Grid

The work is based on the realisation that while the vast majority of the more than 102 million people forcibly displaced from their homes tend to cook with solid biomass, and that this has devastating consequences for their health and the environment, clean cooking and electrification tend to be treated as separate issues and receive disparate levels of investment.

The Alianza Shire’s project in the Kobe IDP settlement in the Somali region of Ethiopia has therefore assessed the feasibility of providing access to Electric Pressure Cookers (EPCs) in public educational institutions through a solar mini-grid.

The innovative approach proposed by the Alianza Shire is to replace traditional 25-litre cooking pots in 6 schools in the Kobe refugee camp with 40-litre electric pressure cookers, powered by a solar mini-grid.

By assessing the feasibility of implementing a mini-grid to supply energy to a set of 16 community services, including the 6 schools, through the use of an optimisation tool, the solution has been found to be technically feasible. The investment cost will be co-financed by the European Union through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), so that the direct beneficiaries will only have to cover the operation and maintenance costs.

Download the poster


The gender gap in productive energy use in refugee camps and its impact on livelihood opportunities

In displacement settings, there are local markets and economic structures in refugee camps that provide livelihood opportunities, but these businesses often do not have sufficient energy to operate or improve their services. Promoting the development of local businesses in refugee camps is critical to building self-reliance among refugees, which is one of the pillars of UNHCR’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.

However, there is a clear gender gap in (poor) energy access among businesses in displacement settings.

From a study conducted in refugee camps in Shire, Ethiopia, where 639 businesses were surveyed on business energy consumption and use, it can be seen that the majority of businesses were run by young men and only around 15% by women. In addition, the price paid for energy supply through private diesel generators is between 3% and 18% higher for women. It was also found that businesses with an energy supply had higher profits compared to those without energy services.

In conclusion, in the solutions proposed by Alianza Shire and other projects, it is not only suggested to focus on access to energy as a fundamental key to creating development opportunities, but also to include a gender perspective in providing this access.

Download the presentation

Book of abstracts

Carmen Pascual is a former student at the Master’s Degree in Strategies and Technologies for Development. Carmen has been developing her internship at itdUPM, and specifically with the Alianza Shire team.


In this Master, the internship requires the making of a video in which students explain the project, their experience, learning, etc. Here you can watch the video that Carmen Pascual has made about her internship:

An initial assessment carried out by Alianza Shire‘s partner, ZOA, concluded that 98% of the shelters in the Hilaweyn refugee camp (Dollo Ado, Ethiopia) do not have any type of access to electricity.

Last December, our partner ZOA carried out work to identify energy access resources and systems in the Hilaweyn refugee camp (Dollo Ado, on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia), through a series of interviews with approximately 100 refugees and another 100 members of the host community.

98% of the shelters in the refugee camp do not have any type of access to electricity, and only use flashlights for lighting. This does not mean that the population is not connected; in fact, the mobile phone is the most widely used device and is considered a basic necessity. Virtually 100% of the population uses mobile phones, but access to recharge their batteries is very limited.

On average, the refugees recharge their mobiles four times a week, which results in a monthly cost of approximately 8.5 euros for each household. If we add to this the cost of recharging the flashlights for lighting, this cost rises to 11 euros per month. Although this figure may seem low, in the interviews carried out by ZOA, the population was very dissatisfied with the cost of a service that they consider to be highly inefficient. Around 15,000 people live in Hilaweyn, including the refugee population and local population. Although refugee camps are often seen as temporary settlements, most are now full-fledged cities. Therefore, in the case of Hilaweyn, the average time spent in the camp is 8.8 years.

Somali refugee children play football at the UNHCR reception center in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia (Photo: UNHCR)


Electricity, mobile recharging, radio and television are, in this order, the electric services that are most popular among the population, which gives us an idea of the importance of communications above cooling systems or fans.

With the information extracted from the interviews carried out by ZOA, Alianza Shire will determine which energy access and lighting systems are the most appropriate, along with the long-term sustainability model for these systems. In this regard, the fact that each dwelling in the camps accommodates an average of 6.5 people makes it possible to establish the type of home solar systems that are necessary to cover basic needs.

Alianza Shire will apply an energy access model that is sustainable over time. To this end, it will encourage groups or communities that produce and consume energy at the same time, thus promoting small businesses that contribute to sustainability and self-sufficiency. 40 percent of the people interviewed are still not familiar with solar energy systems, so Alianza Shire will introduce training and awareness processes to guarantee the success of these systems in the long term.

The Annual ceremony of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid have awarded Alianza Shire in the category of Public-Private Cooperation Partnership for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The awards were presented on January 28, 2021 at the annual ceremony that this university celebrates on the occasion of the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas.


In the words of the rector, Guillermo Cisneros, this award was given to Alianza Shire for the impact it has had on an international level, its approach to sustainability and the social impact of its engineering and education activities in the refugee camps in northern Ethiopia.

Likewise, this award was jointly granted to the Botín Foundation for its initiatives in the field of development and sustainability in communities in developing countries.

Video of the awards ceremony:

Alianza Shire has the organization ZOA as a strategic partner for the implementation of the energy access project in the Tigray refugee camps and in their host communities.


ZOA is an NGO with a long history and experience of working in refugee camps, but the way of working in partnership is a challenge and, sometimes, a new experience.

In these short videos we aske our partners what it does mean for them to work in a partnership and what singular aspects they see in Alianza Shire.


During the month of September, Alianza Shire – through ZOA, its partner in the refugee camps – held two awareness-raising workshops in Hayda, the host community where the Mai-Aini refugee camp is located.


More than 40 people participated in these workshops, including representatives from the administration, communities and potential users.

Alianza Shire explained what these systems consist of and their power generation capacity. In addition, these workshops aimed to help determine and reach an agreement on criteria for the selection of families as users, as well as the rates to be applied in order to achieve long-term sustainability of solar home systems.

This work will continue in the coming months in order to finalize the key aspects of the model with future users of the project.

Last October, from Aliana Shire we organized 15 “Community Participatory Mapping” workshop with the participation of more than 100 people from the four refugee camps we are working in.

The objective was to define the best location for the lighting and power grids in those camps by designing a series of maps that could later be used to make decisions about the project.

During the workshops, refugees identified the areas, routes and priority points for lighting. This way, the diversity of participants and perceptions was sought.

Participating groups were the women’s association, groups of unaccompanied minors, the Refugee Central Committee (RCC) and other relevant organizations from each camp.

To encourage and maintain an atmosphere of openness and trust for the exchange of information, it was decided to treat each of the groups in an individual workshop.


The methodology was divided into three steps:

  1. Our partner organization in the camps, ZOA, developed the workshops with each group and in each camp, identifying on the map the current safety related problems resulting from the absence of lighting. Possible solutions to these problems were then proposed.
  2. ItdUPM and the technical staff were responsible for contrasting the information from the different workshops to find any existing patterns or consensus among the perceptions and priorities of all the participating groups in each camp.
  3. Finally, itdUPM and the technical staff contrasted these maps with the existing project design, budget and technical characteristics to develop a plan to connect the identified priority areas.

The result was presented in a final map so that all groups that participated in the workshops could comment or provide additional information.


The most recurrent problems

Sexual assault, harassment, theft and robbery, fear, feelings of insecurity, conflict and livelihood issues, such as the inability to perform certain jobs, were the most recurrent security problems identified.

During the systematization of the maps, the team discovered several patterns in the location of the mentioned problems. Among them:

  • The border areas of the fields and the roads leading to the host communities as often problematic routes.
  • Latrines, kitchens or communal services, and certain streets have been identified as trouble spots. Commercial areas outside the main roads have also been identified as dangerous. Further analysis is needed to understand the behaviors that cause insecurity at these points.
  • Main roads. Although these roads have not been identified as problem points, most groups have indicated the importance of installing lighting on them to meet other objectives such as promoting livelihood activities and increasing the quality of life.