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News — 28 April, 2020

Mapping Energy Saving Solutions in One of the Largest Refugee Settlements in Africa

In February 2020, HOT with support from the Response Innovation Lab in Uganda, carried out an extensive mapping exercise of all energy-saving solutions retail shops in Bidibidi settlement to better understand the existing market and inform the improvement of access to quality energy-saving products amongst the refugee population.

Cover Photo: Bidibidi Refugee Settlement by Yilmaz Polat

Uganda has received international recognition for its open-door policy, self-sustenance, and resilience for refugees. In Uganda, when a refugee enters and is registered in the country, they are offered a piece of land to reside and carry out income-generating activities that include agriculture to support self-reliance and also contribute to the growth of the communities. According to the World Bank’s 2019 Rapid Assessment Report on Natural Resources, the refugee influx has aggravated already existing environmental challenges, including land degradation, wood, and forest land cover. This is due to the increased demand for food fuel for household consumption through cooking and construction. GIZ’s 2017 Rapid Assessment Needs Report stated that supporting the sustainable use of these natural resources and the introduction of energy-saving solutions could be useful in addressing land degradation and improving energy access across the refugee and host community spectrum.

In collaboration with the Response Innovation Lab and with funding from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) implemented the “Mapping of Energy Saving Solutions in Bidibidi Settlement” to address challenges around the lack of knowledge about energy saving solutions and products available to the refugee community. Through this mapping exercise covering the largest settlement in the country, all vendors, retailers, and merchants of all energy-saving solutions were mapped using GPS-enabled smartphones and simple open-source mobile data collection tools, like OpenDataKit (ODK) Collect. Using these tools, HOT trained surveyors from the settlement to collect specific information on available energy-saving products, services, and the nature of each of the functioning businesses. Once compiled, this data was shared with the AMPERE consortium - a group of implementing partners working to enhance access and feasibility of energy-saving solutions amongst the refugee population - to enable a greater understanding of the state of energy-saving solutions in Bidibidi.

Before the mapping exercise commenced, HOT conducted a two-day technical training on OpenStreetMap and mobile data collection tools with over 20 refugees at the Refugee Innovation Center of Mercy Corps in Zone 03. Despite the poor cellular network and power outage, the surveyors’ team was able to fully map all energy saving solutions retail points and its details across the entire settlement. In the following section, we will highlight some of the findings and insights gained from the collected data.

odk training.jpg Learning how to use OpenDataKit (ODK) Collect before mapping energy-saving solutions retail shops in Bidibidi settlement.

Over the past 8 years, Uganda has had an increased uptake of energy-saving solutions. These include cooking bags, briquettes, solar solutions, with over 10 private companies across Uganda retailing solar lamps, fridges, radios and lights. The following map shows the distribution of retail shops in Zone 3 in Bidibidi and the type of energy-saving solutions each of these shops has for purchase. We found that, in some zones, retailers selling specific energy solutions such as solar or cookstoves were clustered together in the same geographic area. What could be the reason or added value for this?

available solutions.png

Similarly, the following map shows the distribution of existing retail shops in Zone 1 of Bidibidi that sell energy-saving solutions in the settlement as well as the number of customers each of these shops receive on a daily basis. On average, energy-saving solutions retailers receive approximately 15 to 30 customers each day; this is especially the case if retail shops are located in close proximity to one another.

solutions - daily customers.png

Through this mapping exercise, we learned there has been a steady increase in the number of businesses being established that sell energy-saving solutions in Bidibidi, including a number of NGO-supported businesses and cooperative institutions establishing retail shops, with an ‘establishment peak’ in 2019 for a record number of new shops (10 total) established. Many of these retail shops are established for different reasons for operating and often have a unique mission. For example, while some retailers simply sell energy-saving solutions in the refugee settlement, organizations like Raising Gabdho Foundation have been working to provide skill trainings to refugees and host community members to be able to produce and maintain energy-saving cookstoves on their own for the past two years.

business type.png

With respect to popularity, we learned that solar solutions are the most commonly sold energy-saving solutions in Bidi Bidi, accompanied by briquettes which are an alternative energy source for cooking. Other solutions include cooking bags, water filters, and cookstoves as shown in the graph on the right.

most sold.png

It is clear there has been a progressive adoption of energy-saving solutions within the settlement. While the majority of businesses were set up by individuals, there is an increasing trend for energy-saving solution shops to be opened up by individuals with support from NGOs, government and loans. The following map shows the ‘establishment trend’ of energy-saving solutions shops within Zone 05 and the distribution of the shops according to their business type.

map business type.png

Close to half of the retailers that participated in the survey reported that the biggest challenge they face in taking up energy-saving solutions is the high initial costs of products. This greatly affects the would-be consumers who also lack substantial knowledge of the solutions and products available on the market. Other challenges noted are shown in the figure below.


In order to encourage greater uptake of energy-saving solutions in the refugee settlement, there is a need to increase both local production and repair capacity for some of these energy solutions. Given the high cost of repairing imported solutions outside of the settlement (i.e. Arua town), increasing the local capacity to actually produce and repair broken solutions could offset some of the prices and make solutions more attractive in the market and amongst local buyers. For example, skilling more youth within the settlement to learn how to produce and repair these products can address some of these issues and in turn, benefit the refugee population in more ways than one down the line. For reference, we learned through the survey that most energy-saving solutions are imported from China. More specifically, all major solar solution products are largely imported from China, however, a few solar lamps and bulbs are imported from India. Although a handful of retailers selling solar solutions did mention they acquired solar bulbs from Germany as well, there is a significant gap in what can be purchased and repaired locally.

local vs import.png

The findings from the community mapping exercise provide a unique opportunity to respond to a concrete challenge faced by refugees and host community members in Bidibidi settlement by creating knowledge on where to access information on energy-saving solutions and where to purchase them. For instance, the YOYEC (Yoyo Youth Energy Cooperative) was able to find a supplier for briquettes for their sales kiosks within Bidibidi by partnering with Raising Gabdho Foundation. These resources will continue to help business owners or public actors support coordinated improvement of access to quality energy-saving products and inform future programs and business activities in the settlement.