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Refugee camp on a hill

HEED Refugee

Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement


Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - Global Challenges Research Fund 




Practical Action and Scene Connect

Project Team

Professor Elena Gaura (HEED Principal Investigator, Coventry University), Professor Heaven Crawley (HEED Co-Investigator and Research Professor), Dr Jonathan Nixon (HEED Co-Investigator and Research Associate), Professor James Brusey (Research Associate), Dr Nandor Verba (Research Fellow), Dr Alison Halford (Research Fellow) and Hajar Al-Kaddo (Research Fellow).

Project Background

For the past four years, the Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement project (HEED) has worked with Congolese refugees living for protracted periods in three refugee camps in Rwanda (Nyabiheke, Gihembe and Kigeme). In Khalte, Nepal, HEED has also worked with internally displaced people who were forced to leave their homes as a result of the 2015 earthquakes.

HEED is an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Coventry University, in partnership with Practical Action and Scene Connect.

The project draws upon social science and engineering expertise to better understand refugee energy needs. By being evidential about the lived experience of energy in refugee camps, HEED is working towards improving access to energy through socio-technical systems that encourage community resilience and capacity building.

The HEED project used intelligent sensors and information technology to identify the energy needs and aspirations of camp-based refugees and IDPs. The project directly engaged with the communities in a co-design process based on their needs.

From the long-term perspective, HEED intends to demonstrate how sensor-driven energy distribution can lead to ownership models of energy as a common pool asset, thus shifting displaced people into users and producers of renewable energy.

Research Impact and Outcomes

HEED piloted solar interventions in Rwanda. All interventions were then handed over to Alight and World Vision in January 2021 and are managed by community leaders in the camps.
  • Nyabiheke: installation of a standalone solar system for a community hall and 40 solar mobile lanterns.
  • Kigeme: installation of a PV-battery micro-grid for two nursery buildings and a playground.
  • Gihembe: installation of eight solar streetlights and 4 advanced solar streetlights. These advanced solar streetlights allowed people to power electronic devices, such as laptops and mobile phones for free, using the ground level sockets attached to the streetlights. Community interface boards in key camp places showed when and where surplus energy was available to power electronic devices.
  • Generation of a body of data and tools: developed to aid decision-making, implementation and adoption of energy programmes (see HEED Data Portal). 
  • Over half the people HEED employed during the project lifetime were camp-based refugees in Rwanda: 34 refugees as security guards, enumerators (who collected survey data) and community mobiliser. Subsequently, six refugees were hired as in-camp technicians to provide ongoing maintenance after the project ended. Solar energy supplier, Mesh Power, delivered a full training and skills development programme. The attendees also received tool kits and certification for their skills development training.
  • Futurum article: How can we tackle energy poverty in refugee camps?
  • Humanitarian engineering: free teaching resource which explains the work of pervasive computing expert, Dr Elena Gaura, and her work on the HEED project that provided energy to refugee camps in Rwanda and Nepal. These resources are suitable for 14 to 19 year olds in line with KS4 and KS5 Engineering and Computing curriculum. Visit TES and Teacherspayteachers for downloads. 

Recent HEED Incentives

Gihembe, Rwanda

In response to the success of their advanced streetlights, which had ground level sockets to allow people in the camp to charge small electrical devices for free, HEED designed and funded a kiosk that could offer the same services. On the May 17 2021, on behalf of HEED, MESH power, who installed the kiosk, transferred ownership to the humanitarian agency Alight. Located near a clinic/hospital, Alight have now recruited a refugee to run the kiosk. They intend to provide free phone charging services and sell soft drinks, juice, milk, water and snacks for both the workers at the hospital, as well as for the patients.

Kigeme, Rwanda

On the May 26 2021, on behalf of HEED and funded by Coventry University, a World Vision education team met early childhood development and disability education teams to donate 4 Mac chrome books, 4 projectors, and 3 Samsung tablets. The nursery is powered by a solar micro-grid installed by HEED, as part of their piloting of community co-designed and managed energy systems.

For further information on the project, visit the HEED website.

Street lighting with micro grid with blue skies

People, Policy and Innovation: Humanitarian Energy from theory to practice

HEED presented a webinar series throughout September 2021, which saw a host of leading experts, academics, practitioners, donors, and private sector actors come together to challenge the existing understanding of three dimensions of humanitarian energy access in the form of people, process, and policy.

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