Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R)

The project in brief

Implemented by

Practical Action (PA) - Rwanda




The project began in April 2017 and is ongoing, due to be completed in February 2022.


Working in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and supported by the IKEA Foundation, Practical Action’s Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) project works with refugees and their host communities to access finance, training, technology and expertise to improve access to renewable energy. By powering homes, schools, health clinics and businesses, the project enables refugees to flourish and move from reliance on aid to economic independence.



Project aims 

The project aims for a situation where RE4R has demonstrated the economic viability of market-led renewable energy services at an institutional, household and enterprise level, whereby:


  1. Identified stakeholders are inspired to adopt the approach of RE4R and its delivery models.
  2. International and national level policies advocate for renewable energy services in displaced settings.
  3. Identified stakeholders advocate, and demonstrate a commitment to market-based approaches for renewable energy services in displaced settings.

The project’s stated impact is “Re-shaping the humanitarian response”: Key international humanitarian agencies, stakeholders, and delivery agents at the local, national and global level use models demonstrated by RE4R to deliver sustainable, efficient, affordable and reliable renewable energy services for people, communities and institutions in humanitarian settings. In Rwanda this entails achieving the following outcomes:


  • To influence humanitarian institutions and policymakers in Rwanda to fully recognize, account and budget for renewable energy services within humanitarian planning, coordination and response.
  • Renewable energy services for institutional and community facilities. Facilitated by market based approaches, institutions, implementing partners and sector players in Rwanda have access to sustainable, efficient and reliable renewable energy services that support their delivery of services to people and communities affected by displacement.
  • Direct renewable energy access for households, livelihoods and businesses- target populations in Rwanda use sustainable, efficient and reliable energy services to help maintain their rights and dignity.
  • The project aimed to reach 50,000 direct beneficiaries in and around 3 refugee camps in Rwanda.

Resources used 



  • Law n°13er/ 2014 of 21/05/2014 Art 18 – refugees right to work
  • National Energy Strategy (2008-2020) and Energy Sector Strategy Plan – increasing energy generation capacity and access.
  • Rwanda SE4ALL Action Agenda – universal energy access
  • Electricity Access Roll-out programme
  • Rural Electrification Strategy
  • Economic inclusion of Refugees in Rwanda – UNHCR
  • Biomass Strategy



  • 1951 Refugee Convention, Article 17 and the 1967 Protocol. Rwanda is a signatory to this convention.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23.
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 6 and 7. 

Main activities of the Good Practice

Solar Home Systems (SHS)

Using a market systems development approach, RE4R supported 2 private sector partners to offer SHS directly to refugee households and small enterprises. Access to the SHS was supported by the creation of a revolving fund, a loans and savings scheme to promote financial resilience and support the poorest households to afford an SHS.

Energy4Impact (E4I) provided support to 150 refugee and host community enterprises with a tailored package of business and vocational skills training, continuous mentorship, access to finance, and access to appliances and power connections. Most enterprises are now connected to the national grid or a source of solar power, and 70 enterprises have acquired appliances.

SHS have led to transformative changes in the quality of life for refugees including in economic activity, physical safety, leisure and social interactions. Households and businesses can now:

* Access and choose sustainable and reliable energy services; 

* Use energy services to improve their quality of life; 

* Switch to renewable sources; 

* Enhance their livelihood opportunities and income generating potential. 

Solar Streetlights

Streetlight sustainability consultations were held in all three camps during the preparation of the ownership model and refugee representatives also participated in the validation workshop where the model to be implemented was selected. Practical Action has installed 185 solar street lights in three camps in Rwanda (Gihembe, Nyabiheke, Kigeme) which has helped communities, especially women and children, feel safer.

The installation has enabled vendors to extend their business hours which in turn supported their households to afford SHS payments. 


Challenges and how they were overcome



  1. COVID19 lockdown restrictions in Rwanda prevented access to the camps for Practical Action staff and the private sector suppliers staff.
  2. Following the project’s assessment phase we found that not all refugee households could afford the price points for the solar home systems.

How they were overcome


1. Energy4Impact (E4I) have been particularly responsive in adapting their PUE activities to overcome the challenges presented by COVID. They have been innovative in adapting their mentoring program to use remote methods and have remained engaged with their mentees throughout periods when camp access was restricted. They have made good efforts to ensure that the businesses they support are resilient and well placed to recover post pandemic through tailored, COVID specific advice and regular reviews with mentees. 

SHS suppliers are continuing efforts to improve contact with customers, to resolve technical issues and adapt to COVID restrictions. PA will provide further facilitation support to address these issues through user training, refugee recruitment/training and product upgrades, and a lessons learned workshop was completed with the suppliers in Sep 2020. 

2. Practical Action developed an intervention strategy to address the systemic constraints restricting energy access for refugees. A key component of this involved a rigorous private sector identification process which led to the selection of 2 SHS suppliers. Each supplier offered their own business model promoting different products, services and financing mechanisms to reach different parts of the target market.   Belecom set up an affordable payment model, the revolving fund, to support lower income households to access financing to afford the SHS payments in Nyabiheke and Gihembe. Due to covid-19 restrictions the activity was not permitted in Kigeme as group gatherings were banned. The loans and savings scheme brought together households who needed support and offered them the chance to purchase the SHS at a lower monthly repayment rate while supporting the households financial resilience and income generation to make fund repayments. This has allowed 224 households more to participate in accessing a SHS who would otherwise be excluded.

Results of the Good Practice 


  • Survey respondents (December 2020) indicated that 84% use a solar home system as their primary source of lighting and now spend 77% less on candles and 89% less on non-rechargeable batteries.
  • 59% of respondents reported that they are able to do business or productive activities after dark since owning a Solar Home System (SHS). 
  • 91% of respondents reported perceptions of safety had increased after nightfall since the installation of street lights (Nov 2020). 81% of SHS owner survey respondents reported that they feel safer in their home after dark since owning a SHS.

How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

RE4R is aligned with the 2016 Rwandan Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MINEMA) and UNHCR ambition to ensure that “by 2020 all refugees and neighbouring communities are able to fulfil their productive potential as self-reliant members of Rwandan society who contribute to economic development of their host districts”. The joint strategy for economic inclusion promotes refugee self-employment and called for the private sector, social enterprises and NGOs to enhance refugee employment and business opportunities.

The Global Compact on Refugees calls for economic inclusion to ensure “access to labour markets, finance, entrepreneurship and economic opportunities for all, including non-citizens in addition to vulnerable and underserved groups” (UNHCR Refugee Livelihoods and Economic Inclusion- 2019-2023 Global Strategy Concept Note).

RE4R is contributing to this call by providing market systems strengthening and income generation support to refugees through renewable energy access. By facilitation of the private sector to enter displacement markets and through support to refugees via piloting affordable payment models and business support, RE4R is contributing to easing the economic pressures on Rwanda as a host country.

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

RE4R has seen increased income generating activities which is a key way for supporting enhanced refugee self-reliance and an indication of reduced reliance on aid.

Livelihoods and income generation has been supported through RE4R by:

  1. Entrepreneurial refugees have been making the most of access to productive uses of energy to power their businesses supported by project partner Energy for Impact (E4I) who deliver business mentoring and training. Through these interventions refugees have been able to access jobs and set up their own businesses such as barbers, grocers and café owners.
  2. The introduction of RE4R’s revolving fund, to support vulnerable households to purchase a solar home systems, has been an economic boost, providing much needed access to finance for many families in both Nyabiheke and Gihembe refugee camp. As part of the revolving fund, participants must establish a small business or income generating activity to make fund repayments. To date, 224 people have registered and are benefiting from the revolving fund. 67% of participants are women. To date, 114 food traders, 74 small enterprises (tailoring, mobile money and micro-restaurants) and 34 commodities traders have been set up and are thriving. 98% of participants could successfully make their monthly solar home system payments. This initiative demonstrates the demand for financial support and ability to establish small scale economic opportunities despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a significant shift from the free distribution of aid and is indicative of increased demand for employment opportunities, skills development and micro-finance activities.

Next steps 

The project aims to inspire other stakeholders in humanitarian energy to adopt the approaches of RE4R, leading to wider impact beyond the original project scope.

Further support required for the project to continue or scale up

  1. Help set up the enabling environment by removing structural barriers for private sector players to access camps, enable other actors to implement market-based approaches programming in coordination with existing structures around safeguarding and advocate for refugee rights to work, access to mobile money etc.
  2. Invite private sector partners to participate in coordination and information sharing forums.
  3. Where applicable, advocate for energy market systems to be included in host government energy strategies, policies and response plans.
  4. Incentivize the private sector to develop business models inclusive of refugee communities and identify what is needed from NGOs to achieve that.