Energy is a missing pillar in humanitarian responses to forced displacement. The application of humanitarian principles of protection and assistance to people displaced by conflict, disaster, environmental change and development have long focused on the provision of shelter, food, water, and sanitation and health. Yet over 89% of displaced people living in temporary or prolonged settlements live without access to electricity and seek to meet their needs for fuel and power by other means. 

Developing appropriate and long lasting solutions to energy provision in refugee camps and settlements demands that we understand the place of fuel and electricity in the everyday lives and practices of displaced people themselves. 

How can traditions of human oriented and object oriented research in social anthropology and design inform the design of energy policies, infrastructures and services in spaces of forced displacement?

Displaced Energy aims to bring traditions of qualitative, human/object centred research to bear on the way that the humanitarian community understands and responds to needs for light, heat and power in contexts of forced displacement. 

This means understanding the atmospheric qualities of artificial lighting or cooking fires that produce well-being, identity and heritage; it means examining how wood, kerosene and batteries circulate as objects of market and non-market and it means documenting the ad-hoc innovations that emerge as people adapt materials, technologies and infrastructures to their energy needs.

Anthropology/Design Approaches

Led by social anthropologists and designers from the University of Edinburgh's School of Social and Political Science and the School of Design and energy specialists from Practical Action between 2016 and 2018 the project aims to deliver a number of outputs.

Expected outputs will include: training in ethnographic, human-centred research methods to energy researchers in Kenya and Burkina Faso; document the everyday use of fuelwood, diesel/kerosene and alternative energy technologies by displaced people and humanitarian workers in the Dadaab and Goudoubo refugee camps; a portfolio of qualitative methods with example techniques, strategies and references, for use by energy researchers and humanitarian organisations involved in future studies of energy practice in contexts of forced displacement; and a design protocol (code of best practice, procedures and conventions) for use in the procurement and design of products for sustainable lighting, cooking and off grid energy systems.


Displaced Energy is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and the Moving Energy Initiative.  The Moving Energy Initiative aims to make energy a key part of responses to forced displacement and humanitarian emergency by designing and piloting new approaches and models for sustainable energy provision among displaced populations. Moving Energy partners include the UNHCR, the UK Department for International Development, Chatham House (The Royal Institute for International Affairs), Practical Action and Energy4Impact.