Expanding mini-grids during Covid-19 – Experiences from Kalobeyei

From energypedia


In the Kalobeyei Settlement and host community town, ESDS Kenya supported the Covid-19 response measures of local authorities and UNHCR by electrifying facilities that enhance efforts to contain the pandemic. In total, 3 health facilities, providing medical services to refugees and the host community, 4 schools, earmarked as isolation centers, and 1 horticultural farm run by WFP which sustains the food supply were connected to two existing mini-grids built with the support of EnDev in Kalobeyei Settlement and Town. As rapid response measure, they have an immediate impact on mitigating the effects of COVID-19, while they also improve the energy services in Kalobeyei beyond the pandemic and align with the broader objective of ESDS of enhancing self-reliance in displacement settings.

ESDS Kenya produced an impact video that demonstrates with pictures from the ground the intervention measures and features interviews with UNHCR, medical staff, WFP and school operators who explain how they benefitted from them:

Energy Situation

The Kakuma Refugee Camp and the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, located in Turkana County in Kenya’s north-west in proximity to each other, currently host close to 200,000 refugees from Eastern and Central Africa. Their access to sustainable energy is rudimentary with only 5 percent of households[1] in the camp having access to reliable and sustainable electricity in 2019 according to UNHCR. The available electricity interventions are limited to standalone solar PV systems or diesel generators installed by donors and humanitarian organisations and a public mini-grid serving Kakuma town that runs on diesel generators.

To remedy this situation and as part of its efforts to facilitate the market-entry of the private sector in providing sustainable energy, EnDev supported the installation of two mini-grids in the Kalobeyei Settlement and Host Community Town. This happened in cooperation with national and county governments and UNHCR. The mini-grids are run by a private company on a self-sustaining business model and provide electricity for households, businesses and social institutions from the refugee and host communities. Connected customers are charged an electricity tariff that is close to the national utility tariff which was achieved through a Results-Based Financing (RBF) subsidy on capital investment offered to private developers of the mini-grids. As they were unique cases providing electricity to refugee and host communities living in proximity, the subsidy was with 82% of investment costs higher than the 50% offered for mini-grids in other areas earmarked for development. Since September 2019, both mini-grids are operational and serve close to 600 households, businesses and social institutions.

The mini-grid in the settlement has an installed capacity of 60kWp with 120kWh battery storage while the host town mini-grid has an installed capacity of 20kWp and 60kWh battery storage. Both have 100 kVA and 10 kVA diesel backup generators. The generation systems designs were based on feasibility studies carried out for the two sites where present demand was assessed and forecasted demand estimated. The mini-grids extend to approximately 4km². In the settlement, the mini-grid has a Medium Voltage (MV) and Low Voltage (LV) distribution network with a length of 8.4km and 14.5km, respectively. The mini-grid in the host town has an LV distribution network extending 7km. All customers have pre-paid meters and use mobile money platforms to purchase tokens that they can redeem for a predefined amount of electricity.

Local site agents and operation technicians carry out operation and maintenance, while a remote monitoring system is in place in order to understand consumption patterns. This has revealed that although levels increased six folds since inception, the average consumption by households continues to be low on average with ca. 0.3kWh and 1.3kWh for businesses and institutions. Still, the connection of 344 households in total speaks to the contribution of the mini-grids in improving the energy access of the previously excluded population and demonstrates that demand exists for high-tier electricity supply.

Mini-Grid in Kalobeyei. Source: Renewvia Energy
Mini-Grid in Kalobeyei. Source: Renewvia Energy

Given this success, ESDS Kenya, acting complementary to EnDev, is commissioned by the BMZ to facilitate the expansion of the mini-grids into the rest of Village 1, Villages 2 and 3 of the Kalobeyei Settlement and the Host Town in order to further increase energy access of refugees and host communities. This takes place in coordination with the Turkana County Government (TGC) and aligns to the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Plan (KISEDP). Since market-studies by EnDev suggested that the majority of refugee households[2] cannot afford the current, already subsidized tariff, financing schemes are being explored as support measures to reach a broader consumer base. As the second pillar of its activities, ESDS Kenya assists UNHCR in its transition towards a greener energy supply by supporting the solarization of its infrastructure in Kalobeyei and Kakuma and enacting energy efficiency measures through technical and financial assessments.

Adjustments due to COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 necessitated an adjustment to these plans: With the objective to provide immediate and high-impact support to Kalobeyei’s inhabitants, ESDS Kenya prioritized the connection of critical facilities to the mini-grids that reinforce response measures to the pandemic. In discussion with UNHCR, it was decided to electrify 3 health clinics, 2 in the settlement and 1 in the host town, 4 learning institutions in the settlement that serve as isolation centers, 2 accommodation facilities for medical staff and a WFP horticultural farm that supports food security. For all facilities, the team conducted rapid need assessments and designed the technical systems before the construction work for the distribution lines was tendered in a fast-tracked process. As electricity is supplied through a pre-paid metering system, the institutions are mandated to pay for their electricity cost with coordination from UNHCR.

These measures improve the preparedness of the Kalobeyei Settlements and Host Community Town to Covid-19 and were completed despite existing restrictions on movement and interaction. With the first infection reported on 25th May 2020 in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, the connected facilities take a significant role in curbing the spread of the virus and contribute to response measures of authorities. Also, the impact of the electrification of the facilities goes beyond Covid-19: It improves health and education services, offers learning opportunities and sustains the food supply in Kalobeyei for refugees and hosts. This enhanced access to sustainable energy supports their self-reliance and quality of life which contribute to ESDS’ broader objectives.

However, it must be noted that during the implementation two main challenges were identified: First, despite accelerating the process, it took 5 months from initial request to completion which signifies the difficulties for development cooperation organisation like GIZ to provide short-term measures in emergencies. While this can be mitigated to an extent by conceptualizing scalable solutions that can be rapidly deployed and dismantled, e.g. containerized PV-system, in emergency situations, rapid response plans must be differentiated from development efforts which require more planning and have a long-term outlook. In that regard the mini-grid expansion represents the given delimitations behind the approaches of humanitarian and development projects which links to the second encountered challenge, that is the sustainability of immediate relief measures. In the case of Kalobeyei due to time limitations, it was not possible to conceptualize a self-sustaining business model for the operation and maintenance of the distribution lines of the mini-grids prior to their installation, due to which it continues to rely on ESDS Kenya’s support. This opens the question of how sustainability can be reconciled with emergency support and how structural aspects can be embedded within the latter.

These are the next steps ESDS Kenya will work towards, that is sustaining the distribution lines to ensure their functioning long-term wise. Moreover, once pandemic-related restrictions allow, the team will refocus its attention to its initial plans of connecting additional customers in the other villages of the settlement to the mini-grids and will explore avenues to maximise the use of the distribution network constructed as COVID-19 response measures.


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GIZ's Energy Solutions for Displacement Settings (ESDS) project cooperate with UNHCR to enhance the access to sustainable energy in displacement contexts, and the Energypedia page has been created to share learnings across various practitioners to spur the development of clean energy solutions.

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