The world’s largest solar energy plant inside a refugee camp just got switched on. Refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp on the border of Jordan and Syria now have access to reliable power allowing them to turn on fans and lights, recharge phones, watch TV, and turn on a fridge. The 12.9-megawatt solar plant can provide electricity to the camp up to 14 hours a day, previously electricity supply was only available in the evenings. Tahani Husni Al Hajali, who has been living in the camp for five years, told local media that “with access to electricity during the day, we can keep our kids inside by letting them watch TV; this will keep them from going out under the harsh sun and in sandstorms.”
German funds solar plant
The $17.5 million USD project was funded by the German government. The installation of the 40,000 solar panels will reduce the ongoing costs of the camp by as much as $5.5 million USD per year. Reportedly more than 75 refugees worked alongside local Jordanians to install the solar plant. The refugees were taught new skills and were able to earn additional income from the work. Weather conditions at the camp can be extreme and the ability to cool the accommodation and keep food in the fridge is lifesaving for many. Tahani Husni Al Hajali explains the relief, “Right now, we only have electricity from around six in the evening until three in the morning, and there are lots of things we need the power for: using the washing machine, charging our phones and watching TV,” she said. In addition to improving the quality of life for the refugees inside their accommodation, the new power will mean children can attend school more regularly and that additional lighting will make the camp a safer place at night and in the evening. Stefano Severe, a UNHCR representative in Jordan, said: “Camp life will be made much easier.”
Solar power makes life more bearable in camps across the Middle East
The Zaatari refugee camp is now just one of many camps around the world that have adopted renewable energy. The Azraq camp, also located in Jordan, is 100% powered by solar panels. Funded by the Ikea Foundation the two-megawatt solar plant helps 20,000 refugees living in the camp power basics necessities such as fridges, fans, and mobile phones. An upgrade of the plant is planned soon to boost its output from two to five megawatts. Once the upgrade is completed the plant will be able to provide power to all 36,000 residents. The investment in solar panel infrastructure may be seen as a loss of hope that the refugee crisis will resolve quickly. However, the solar plants have long lives and can be easily moved to new locations once their usefulness at the camps has come to an end. Head engineer at Mustakbal, the firm responsible for overseeing the installation of panels at the Azraq camp has said that once the panels are no longer needed in the camp, they will be able to be used to power local communities and in doing so lessen the reliance on foreign fuel supplies.