TNO & UNICEF in Mongolia

Bad air quality 

Coal-based energy supply in a ger, a circular, domed tent-like dwelling in which many Mongolians live, leads to bad indoor and outdoor air quality. UNICEF is particularly worried about the negative health impact the bad air quality has on pregnant mothers and young children and has been working to resolve the issue for a few years now. Together with the TNO; the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, UNICEF Mongolia is now looking to implement and scale clean energy solutions that work for the specific case of Mongolia and the different areas, such as in Bayankhongor, that are affected.    

The until now absence of a coherent approach on the clean energy front that can benefit thousands of ger households nationwide is the result of a problem that is multiplex and therefore requires a systematic solution. UNICEF wants to create affordable access to renewable energy for a large number of Gers and commercial buildings; especially schools, kindergartens and hospitals. They would also like to have the capacity to measure the impact of former and future renewable energy implementations through reliable air quality measurements.  

Scale it up with a vision

To realise this, UNICEF went looking for an external partner that could assist them in the facilitation of the Mongolian energy transition. It was at this point that TNO came in and started working on a comprehensive and science-based strategy to achieve that goal. According to Francesco Pizzocolo, Project Manager at TNO, the partnership between the not-for-profit knowledge organisation and UNICEF was important as it set the conditions for the project to grow. “As TNO, we want to avoid small-scaled, scattered initiatives. We are trying to glue it all together and scale it up with a vision.”

Long-term impact on the environment and society

As an independent actor with an overview of existing technologies and expertise in the process of innovation, TNO is in the position to consult UNICEF by drawing up a sustainable business model and training local professionals in order to achieve a complete knowledge transfer. Making sure that the knowledge is properly transferred is important for both UNICEF and TNO, as explained by Mathilde Miedema, Program Manager at TNO: “TNO has a vision that goes beyond the time-span of the project itself. We know that we will usually have to conclude a project in 3 to 5 years, but we really want the innovation and transition to continue for decades afterwards. It is therefore extremely important for us that we are really in the position to train and transfer our knowledge to the local population and reach long-term impact on the environment and society.” 

Independent Actor

For now, the plan is to utilise geothermal heat to warm the Gers and establish solar energy stations for electricity generation. TNO and UNICEF seek collaboration with engineering companies, impact-investors, and raise awareness among the local population by setting up renewable energy impact centres that are run by local partners. The latter is very important, says Francesco Pizzocolo. “If you want to achieve a real transition, then you need to enable a cultural change. The local population needs to be convinced that a transition from coal and gas to renewables is needed and possible.” Mathilde Miedema agrees with her colleague. “It is very difficult to achieve cultural change if something is imposed from top to bottom. UNICEF Mongolia is very much grounded and in contact with the local population, it’s doing a great job by linking up and identifying the local partners, making this partnership very complementary.” 

Innovation steps towards impact


A systematic solution

UNICEF Mongolia is looking to implement and scale energy solutions by setting up independent off-grid energy communities that rely on renewable energy solutions that work best for them. 


Mongolian energy transition expert

TNO is helping UNICEF Mongolia by advising it on the not only in-depth technological issues, but also on the process of innovation and the business model the project requires in order for it being able to scale to have the impact UNICEF is aiming for. 


…to the local population

The plan is to build geothermal heat and solar stations, establish proper indoor and outdoor air quality measuring system, seek impact-investors, and raise awareness among the local population by setting up renewable energy impact centres that are run by local partners. 


Achieve cultural change

“TNO has a vision that goes beyond the time-span of the project itself. We know that we will usually have to conclude a project in 3 to 5 years, but we really want the innovation and transition to continue for decades afterwards … by training and transferring our knowledge to the local population.”