Critical Concepts and Research Needs in Humanitarian Energy

Crisis affected populations, such as refugees and internally displaced people, are often left behind in energy access discussions at the national and global level. Sustainable energy in displacement settings is frequently piecemeal and based on free-distribution rather than market-based mechanisms. Additionally, energy access is thought of more in terms of products rather than access to energy services. Global progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 7 to date has rarely included displaced people. These are just a few of the pressing research topics which need urgent attention to support the long-term planning in the ‘new normal’ of humanitarian crisis. Much more evidence will be needed on these topics and others to support inclusive policy-making and sustainable energy planning for the displaced, especially in progressive hosting countries that offer an enabling environment for investment in and around displacement settings.


The landscape of humanitarian energy has evolved rapidly over the past ten years. There has been a proliferation of institutions and organizations working on sustainable energy for displaced people, and a considerable number of new policies and projects have been created since 2015. Understanding humanitarian energy needs in context requires new research and primary evidence. Even in 2021, we lack a comprehensive overview of how many displaced people have access to energy within humanitarian contexts.


Within this context, there has been particularly slow progress in gathering data on humanitarian energy access. This is partly a function of missing standard procedures and limited guidance on data collection to measure energy access rates or understand the energy needs of displaced communities. The complex nature of humanitarian response has further complicated this issue. To support the build-up of energy data within the humanitarian sector, the Global Platform of Action Coordination Unit (GPA) and partners such as Chatham House and the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) Programme have been working with humanitarian sector partners to map out the types of energy indicators and data processes that can lay the foundation for a harmonized data collection and analysis in forced displacement.


The working paper attached to this blog provides a summary of some of the key issues for research, evidence, and data in the humanitarian energy sector, and it outlines the priorities identified by the GPA Research and Evidence Group. The purpose of this document is to connect a number of emerging themes and research ideas on humanitarian energy, with the aim of fostering a collaborative approach for research in the sector. A number of topics are presented within the working paper:


  1. Critical Research Priorities: identified by the GPA Research and Evidence Group.
  2. New Primary Research Topics: that academics or researchers could find useful in guiding new projects or research design.
  3. Analysis and Academic Research Topics: including a summary of research currently being conducted on humanitarian energy.


In the area of humanitarian assistance, we believe that research should have a practical, as well as academic, value, and be demand-driven and action-based in order to make a difference. Therefore, when scoping specific research-based projects to gather or analyze data and evidence it is important to consider the purpose, ethics and inclusiveness, and ultimate outcomes of research. Direct analytical and research support for humanitarian organizations and their partners is increasingly important in order to support effective sustainable energy delivery in refugee and displacement contexts. The GPA structure is able to support projects in developing impact-orientated research, by matching academic and supply-side research and private-sector actors who can gather and analyze data and evidence, with the humanitarian agencies 'demand-side' actors who are responsible for implementing specific projects on the ground. Please reach out to or for more information about how to become involved with this community.

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Author: Dr Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen is an academic at the University of Oxford and is the co-lead for research and evidence within the GPA.


GPA Working Paper

Last updated: 09/06/2021

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