Insights and Energy at the Energy Meet-Up

Insights and Energy at the Energy Meet-Up

Coalition – June 22nd, 2018

On the longest day of the year, DCHI organized the 6th Third Thursday Meetup in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense and RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency). The goal was to inform, inspire, and create opportunities to support the energy transition in the humanitarian sector. Various avenues for future collaboration were explored with regards to ensuring that both crisis-affected people as well as humanitarian organisations can have access to energy in ways that are safe, cost-efficient, healthy, and sustainable.

The meeting was attended by different companies, humanitarian organisations, knowledge institutes, and government partners that jointly explored how the current focus on sustainable energy across sectors, can also support humanitarian innovation efforts.

The Meetup was held at the Field Lab Smart Base, an inspiring location where the Ministry of Defense is testing the (military) base of 2025 with a number of ambitions. One such ambition that struck a chord with the meeting of today, was  to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels with 50% by 2050 without decreasing operational capacity. Edwin Leidelmeijer  from the Ministry of Defense explained that once an agency decides to ensure that “interventions in field should realize a completely positive impact,” there are different ways in which the investment in more sustainable energy solutions pays off. These returns on investment do not only apply in a military setting, but can be just as relevant for humanitarian agencies. Edwin explained that by switching to more sustainable energy solutions:

  1. Operational environments can become safer and more comfortable (for example by reducing the noise of generators);
  2. Logistical dependency on for example imported diesel is reduced;
  3. Although financial investments are high initially, running costs in the long run are far lower;
  4. Environmental and social pressures are reduced both on the short and long term.

Next, Derk de Haan from RVO shared his take-aways from his experience working in both humanitarian and development contexts for various organisations, stressing the need to keep in mind an overall framework and strategy before jumping into switching to new energy solutions, to allow for the right budget decisions when you are planning new projects as well. Also, he shared that as much as solar power and electricity can provide huge gains to people affected by crises as well as humanitarian organisations themselves, we should not forget that energy needs go beyond off-grid PV only. Actually, 3 billion people still cook on open fire, and indoor air pollution is a big killer – key issues for which plenty or relatively simple cookstove solutions are still very much worth scaling up.

Moreover, Derk advised everyone to take the context of your operations into account very carefully once you plan to transfer to renewable or more sustainable sources of energy. Rob van Poelje from Hivos as well demonstrated how the success of their projects in green and socially inclusive energy over the past 25 years was not so much dependent on the availability of technological solutions, but on their collaboration with local partners. In the programmes of Hivos, the private sector, and female entrepreneurs in particular, play a key role in increasing access to for example solar solutions through local markets.

The need for inclusive market-based approaches was also stressed by Martijn Veen of SNV. Surely, there are differences between development- and humanitarian contexts, but none the less, like most of the participants he felt much can be gained in humanitarian crisis from the way the development sector has learned to approach the energy question. It is key, Martijn shared, to ensure efforts to boost a transition to sustainable energy are based on the wants and needs to of the people themselves, be it cooking, watching the premiere league, or reading at night. Taking a market-based approach that considers both the demands and purchasing power of host populations as well as refugees into account, will create a much more sustainable environment to support the energy transition, than for example blanket hand-outs of free solar lamps.

With the learnings from Edwin, Derk, Rob, and Martijn in mind, the audience was enthused to get to work to integrate a focus on sustainable energy solutions in humanitarian efforts. At the same time, it was felt that the short term horizons of many humanitarian programmes, as well as the lack of capital to make the initial investments needed to support this transition, create barriers to success. It was felt that joint advocacy, for example through the Dutch Relief Alliance, was needed to create for example access to funds to change these conditions. At the same time, such advocacy could also help raise awareness among humanitarian actors, about both the needs as well as the opportunities to jointly support this transition. Collecting and sharing of evidence for the business case for transitioning to renewable energy in the humanitarian sector, could strongly support this.

That this is by no means an exercise that humanitarian organisations have to go at alone, became clear from the attendance of participants from many companies and center of expertise. As part of an innovation market, a whole range of companies and innovators presented themselves, including Africa Clean Energy, Simgas, Alfen, IbisPower, Think Innovation, Rural Spark, Offgrid Box, Power2Aid/Alliander, Independent Energy and Bredenoord. A lot of contacts between humanitarian organisations and innovators were established throughout the demonstrations, and several companies explicitly mentioned that they would welcome collaboration with humanitarian organisations, for example by jointly testing solutions in the humanitarian field.

The extensive networking that continued after the formal programme, proved once more how many opportunities there are for humanitarian organisations, the private sector, government institutes, and knowledge institutes to collaborate. Supporting the energy transitions in the humanitarian sector in a way that is sustainable and makes a real impact, simply cannot be done by one or a two actors alone, but calls for a joint effort. Creating and collecting of evidence for the business case for such a transition as well as for the different solution models available, sharing of lessons learned from other sectors, and advocacy for integration of this issue in humanitarian programming and funding opportunities, is something that reaches its highest impact when done together.

The meet-up therefore proved to be valuable step in that direction. Would you like to think along with DCHI on how realize these ambitions further? We will organize a follow-up meeting, bringing together the partners of the coalition to agree on concrete actions we can take together. Interested to know more? Contact Roza Freriks.

Initiative: Energy

Access to Modern Energy is increasingly recognized as an area of humanitarian concern. If communities affected by crises go without proper access to energy, it becomes impossible for them to meet the basic needs of life. In fact, if humanitarian organisations do not adequately address access to energy in their programmes, they risk contributing to the very same problems they aim to solve.

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