The coronavirus outbreak has led us to think more about energy transition. What does energy transition mean? It is best defined as a shift from a system dominated by nonrenewable, finite resources toward a system that uses renewable energy sources. We need to create other solutions to increase the use of sustainable energy to heat or light our homes.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most severe economic and energy shocks in modern history. On top of the massive disruptions to business, mobility and everyday life, there clearly will be longer-lasting implications for the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
To achieve the targets under the Paris Agreement and limit global climate change, the energy transition will need to include a mosaic of solutions beyond just renewables and fossil fuel demand destruction.
In the age of pandemic, the most vulnerable group is again refugees who are living in tent cities or camps.
In general, meeting the energy needs of refugees and displaced people have long been based on short term and unsustainable projects that are not only inefficient but also costly for the humanitarian community.
COVID-19 has triggered growing attention at the policy level on providing alternative solutions that are more efficient and sustainable by embracing local capacity with global technology.
Mainly, the biggest problem in the refugee camps is heating. Most refugees living in camps mainly depend on firewood for heating and cooking. Women who usually do collect firewood face life-threatening challenges ranging from sexual violence, health hazards and tensions with the host community over environmental degradation.
Limited access to infrastructure and few opportunities to earn an income make life hard for the residents of the Nizip refugee camp in southeastern Turkey's Gaziantep.
Truly, refugees do not only need blankets. They have the potential to learn new things, even in refugee camps. Therefore, they can be taught to create their own energy sources. The best way to provide sustainable energy for refugees is to make them partners and not just recipients.
Meanwhile, we currently produce enough food globally to feed everyone on the planet. Unfortunately, though, we waste too much.
If food waste were a country, it would be the third greatest greenhouse gas emitter. There is enough food in the world for everyone already, if it was shared properly rather than wasted.
Undeniably, to address this issue, policymakers have enough power and vision to initiate a pilot project – community-based plastic waste recycling. The projects guided by principles of sustainability can aim to safeguard the environment and health of the community in the camps.
The renewable energy campaigns will be a good opportunity to engage refugees and host community members in plastic waste collection and to raise awareness among the camp's population.
Plastic is gathered from camp residents, sorted, preprocessed and then sold to recycling companies in Gaziantep. The preprocessed waste, shredded into granules or bailed, becomes raw material that is reused for other purposes, reducing pollution and the need of extracting primary resources.
In fact, refugees and the rural communities in Gaziantep need access to clean energy and participate in generating it, especially in the age of COVID-19.
Refugees in camps and vulnerable communities are more susceptible to contracting the virus and other illnesses due to harsh living standards and their dependence on fossil fuels for heat and power. Access to renewable energy will be more affordable, accessible round the clock, less dependent on the government’s national grid and will definitely improve air quality.
Gaziantep is well known due to its dense population and industry. It currently ranks 11th in Turkey in terms of total energy consumption and there are about 2 million people living in Gaziantep with 2,560 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy consumption per capita in a total area of 7,642 square kilometers (2,950 square miles).
There is a wide range of renewable energy sources in Gaziantep that can be harnessed if both the government and the community cooperate.
For example, the waste-to-energy sanitary landfill plant that depends on 1,500 tons of daily waste recovered, which is managed by the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality, has a power capacity of 5.66 megawatts (MW). This covers only 1.25% of the total power demand of Gaziantep, providing energy to only around 2,000 households.
Although there are other hydro and wind energy plants that complement the municipal waste energy plant, they are not enough for a healthy and sustainable community, especially those living in tents.
There are few recommendations to increase the share of renewable energy in total energy production. According to an energy consultant based in the United Kingdom, Ahmed Abdelbasset, if there is government or international funding available, prefabricated houses with the highest quality and minimal costs could be built for the refugees and rural communities.
“These prefabricated houses will maintain sustainability as they could be powered by solar energy, ground source heat pumps, biomass boilers or mini biomass combined heat and power engines. This could be in addition to the involvement of the community with sorting their waste to be picked up for energy production in the waste-to-energy plant,” he said during our virtual meeting on refugees and renewable energy.
Furthermore, carbon filters and storage of the waste for the energy plant could be implemented to create negative carbon emissions in Gaziantep. Furthermore, the potential of harnessing wind energy in Gaziantep could sustain thousands of prefabricated houses and neighboring households.
He also suggested that the government could introduce a renewable energy tariff for renewable energy generators, both industrial and domestic. He believes this will encourage the involvement of both communities and businesses in their own energy production.
Indeed, Abdelbasset has smart and very applicable suggestions. These kinds of sustainable initiatives can contribute significantly to the reduction of plastic waste in refugee camps. These projects can improve living conditions, generating income and a sense of purpose for workers and participating camp residents.
The projects create a viable environmental solution to the waste problem that communities can continue implementing themselves in the future.
Soon, more collection points may be opened and the workers will receive vocational training on how to run the project to help increase the quantity of plastic gathered and revenue generated.
As a consequence, sustainable energy can bring light and hope to the world’s poorest communities. That’s why we’re supporting refugees' access to energy, so they can break their reliance on aid and rebuild their lives.
*Journalist, Ph.D. candidate and energy expert based in London