The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has connected a new extension to the solar plant at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, with funding from the IKEA Foundation.

The project has been funded by IKEA’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, which raised €30.8 million for UNHCR to provide light and renewable energy for refugee families living in camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It has brought renewable power to people who had lived without electricity for two and a half years—and made Azraq the world’s first solar-powered refugee camp.

When the solar plant was first connected in May 2017, it had a capacity of two megawatts. The 1.5-megawatt extension means that more than half of the camp’s electrical needs will now be met through renewable energy.

© UNHCR/Benoit Almeras

The solar plant has been life-changing for the families who live in Azraq, as the camp is in a desert area in northern Jordan, with hot summers and harsh winters. Before it was built, the lack of electricity made everyday tasks—such as cooking and washing clothes—arduous and time-consuming. When darkness fell, children couldn’t do their homework. Without fridges, it was difficult to keep food fresh. Women and children didn’t feel safe walking to the communal washrooms at night.

Now, solar power provides affordable and sustainable electricity to at least 40,900 Syrian refugees living in up to 10,470 shelters. Each family can have light inside the shelter, connect fridges and fans, and charge their phones, helping them keep in touch with relatives and friends abroad.

With the new extension, UNHCR will save US$2 million a year and the camp’s CO2 emissions will be reduced by around 4,500 tons a year. By mid-2019, a further extension will mean that renewable energy will supply 70% of the camp’s energy demands, saving yet more money and carbon.

© UNHCR/Robert Arcidiacono

The plant provided income for 50 refugees who were employed in the construction of the solar plant. Another 120 are employed on a rotating basis to carry out internal house wiring from the electrical network, supported by 10 trained refugee electricians who ensure the safety and quality of these connections.

Per Heggenes, IKEA Foundation CEO, says: “We’re incredibly proud to support UNHCR in bringing renewable energy to Azraq. The solar plant—and this new extension—is helping the families and children who live there lead a safer and more dignified life, with more opportunities for study, work, play and keeping in touch with the world outside the camp.”