International Order & Conflict

Renewable Energy & UN Peacekeeping: Untapped Potential in the DRC

By Victoria K. Holt Contributing Author ·  Alex Hopkins Research ·  David Mozersky Co-Author
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Part of the Powering Peace Project

This report is part of Powering Peace, a joint initiative of Energy Peace Partners and the Stimson Center.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to one of the most protracted and complex crises in the world today. Eighty percent of the population are estimated to live in extreme poverty, and few people have access to electricity. The country, which lacks an interconnected national electric grid, has one of the lowest rates of electrification and energy consumption in the world.

Yet the DRC has considerable hydroelectric power potential and virtually untapped solar and wind power resources. MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping operation deployed in the DRC, uses diesel generators for two thirds of its electricity, with the other one-third coming from renewable hydroelectricity via local grids. Unique opportunities exist today to accelerate the transition by MONUSCO and other international actors to renewable sources of power. This transition would deliver short-term benefits for the missions and long-term benefits for the communities they are deployed to serve. In an environment of shrinking humanitarian and peacekeeping resources and increasing climate commitments, the adoption of a more strategic approach to electricity use in the field is both efficient and the right thing to do.

This report considers the DRC’s electricity sector amid its history of conflict, including the available sources of energy. It then looks at an important but generally overlooked aspect of the international response to the crisis in DRC: current practice by humanitarian operations and MONUSCO around the consumption and production of electricity. Despite promising efforts to increase the share of renewable energy, existing United Nations (UN) practices remain largely diesel-dependent. The report examines ongoing efforts by international actors in the DRC to boost the share of renewable sources of energy; articulates the benefits of increasing diesel-to-renewable energy transitions for both the operations and the host country; details viable opportunities and potential challenges for implementing such transitions; and recommends next steps.

Benefits of Change

Renewable energy transitions by international field operations in the DRC, particularly MONUSCO, would have positive benefits, including the following:

• Generating cost savings associated with a reduction in expenditures on diesel fuel, fuel transport, generators, generator maintenance, and spare parts. 12 Powering Peace • Reducing the mission’s environmental impact and carbon footprint consistent with UN principles and policies as set forth in the United Nations’ Greening the Blue initiative, the Environment Strategy issued by the Department of Field Support (DFS, now Department of Operational Support, DOS), and the recently adopted 10-year Climate Action Plan.

• Stimulating the DRC’s renewable energy sector via increased demand by UN actors for renewable energy, particularly hydroelectric and solar power.

• Facilitating implementation of MONUSCO objectives, particularly with regard to the peacebuilding aspects of its mandate that may be supported by the local economic benefits of renewable energy expansion.

• Supporting the government of the DRC to achieve its ambitious national target of 65 percent electrification by 2025 and, consistent with Sustainable Development Goal No. 7, 100 percent electricity access by 2030.

For MONUSCO, there are practical energy transition options available to realize these benefits:

• MONUSCO troop contingents collectively have the largest carbon footprint of the mission. In 2018, two MONUSCO military bases in North Kivu transitioned from diesel-powered self-generation to 24-hour hydroelectric power from Virunga SARL. The mission should consider extending this model to other sites where troops are deployed and where access to hydroelectric power is available, particularly in North Kivu. In doing so, the mission would be able to further expand its use of renewable energy with relative ease.

• Power generation at MONUSCO’s Goma headquarters and Goma airport is currently split between diesel-powered self-generation (18 hours per day) and contracted hydroelectric grid power (6 hours per day) from the Congolese national utility SNEL (Société Nationale d’Electricité). The mission should avail itself of a competing option from the Société Congolaise de Distribution d’Eau et d’Electricité (SOCODEE) and Virunga SARL to source 24-hour hydroelectric grid power at these sites. This would generate at least US$155,000 in annual cost savings at Goma airport alone and reduce the mission’s environmental impact.

• Were MONUSCO to transition to 24-hour hydroelectric grid power in Goma, its existing 650-kilowatt solar system could be redeployed to dieseldependent field sites.

• Outside of Goma and the surrounding areas, which enjoy access to hydroelectric power that is lacking in other parts of the country, the mission should explore options to use more off-grid solar systems to meet its power requirements. For a typical MONUSCO site, the capital investment required Renewable Energy and UN Peacekeeping 13 for deploying a solar and battery system would be paid back in less than four years, with potential cost savings of more than US$2.5 million over 10 years. Given mission downsizing, these expenditures could be justified at sites where a presence is expected to remain for an extended period.

• MONUSCO should explore options to enter into energy-as-a-service leasing agreements, whereby renewable power generation is outsourced. This is an emerging model that could create significant efficiencies for field missions.

Challenges to Face

Despite these opportunities to increase MONUSCO’s share of renewable electricity and their accompanying benefits, change is not without challenges.

• Despite the fortuitous proximity of some MONUSCO sites in eastern DRC to 24-hour hydroelectric power, the mission remains largely reliant on diesel. The lack of expertise within and guidance available to MONUSCO and the UN system at large for evaluating different energy options and assessing the business case for renewable energy transitions remain an obstacle to change that partly explains the current path dependency.

• Some troop contingents deployed in the DRC lack clear information about their ability to connect to local grid power or use on-site renewable energy. Troop contingents are reimbursed for the contingent-owned equipment (COE) with which they deploy. Reimbursement rates were recently introduced for renewable energy generators, but to date this has not proven to be a sufficient incentive, so troop contingents continue to deploy with traditional diesel generators.

• The limited transfer of institutional knowledge between missions with regard to renewable energy transitions, including lessons learned and the development of best practices, may be hindering the pace at which MONUSCO is able to implement energy transitions.

Despite these challenges, there is increasing appetite within the UN system to achieve progress in this area. The UN-wide Greening the Blue initiative and peacekeeping-focused DFS Environment Strategy identify goals and objectives to improve the United Nations’ overall environmental practices, efficiency, and climate neutrality; and the newly adopted 10-year Climate Action Plan sets a UN goal of getting 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Although results have varied by mission, these policies continue to provide a framework for measuring and achieving progress. The increased delegation of authority to heads of missions, emerging from UN reforms introduced 14 Powering Peace on January 1, 2019, should help facilitate decision-making by mission leaders that is better aligned with these broader policy objectives. Meanwhile, the 2020 triannual negotiations over COE present an opportunity for the Secretariat to issue more detailed guidance to troop-contributing countries (TCCs), which could further enable renewable energy deployment in field missions.

A Way Forward

Accelerating the renewable energy transitions of international actors in the DRC is possible, but it will require an ongoing commitment from MONUSCO leadership, the Secretariat, and UN member states to equip field missions to achieve progress. In the larger context, modernizing UN field operations should include examination of the diverse options available for how these missions source and produce energy, not least to account for increasing global climate commitments, dramatic advances in renewable energy and storage technology, and significant reductions in the costs of these technologies. This will ultimately require a rethinking of the way peace operations are budgeted, planned, and managed. Getting this right will further expand the United Nations’ positive impacts in the DRC in the form of new energy access, and the associated economic, climate, and peacebuilding gains.


For the leadership of MONUSCO:

• Undertake decision-making about the mission’s electricity use and renewable energy targets in collaboration with the Mission Support component of the mission, including through a joint process with regard to strategic energy issues.

• Engage with SOCODEE/Virunga SARL about transitioning Goma headquarters, Goma airport, and other accessible TCC sites in the region to 24-hour hydroelectric grid power.

• Relocate the solar installation from Goma headquarters to dieselpowered off-grid location(s), such as Kananga, and explore deploying additional solar systems at other off-grid sites.

• Document MONUSCO’s efforts to date to adopt hybrid energy options, as well as its use of local renewable energy sources, to capture lessons learned for the mission and for UN peace operations more generally. Renewable Energy and UN Peacekeeping 15

For UN headquarters and member states:

• Prioritize electricity generation from renewable resources. Develop clearer goals, stemming from Greening the Blue and the DFS (now DOS) Environment Strategy, for the electricity generation practices of field missions, and provide the necessary support to achieve them.

• Create incentives and support packages to help UN field operations transition to renewable energy.

• Educate troop- and police-contributing countries on these goals and options for deployment, and create incentives to achieve them through the COE reimbursement system.

• Direct each UN mission to produce an electrification plan to help diversify energy sources and increase the use of renewables in line with the UN goal of carbon neutrality. For the DRC government:

• Prioritize the creation of the Autorité de Regulation d’Electricité.

• Support the renewable energy sector by reducing or eliminating import duties and other restrictions on solar and other relevant equipment.

• Work with MONUSCO to further support national electrification goals and improve access to energy across the country.