The world’s newest country, South Sudan, is also the least electrified. A period of growth that began after a 2005 peace deal and continued after independence in 2011, saw billions of dollars in oil revenue and strong international support. This period was powered by diesel generators and little long-term electricity infrastructure was created. A new civil war that began in late 2013 has stymied all growth and led to economic collapse, triggering a massive multibillion-dollar international humanitarian response. Switching from diesel to renewable energy in these operations could unlock a host of benefits, both near-term and longer-term. This report argues for a donor-led transition to renewable energy to power humanitarian efforts across South Sudan and offers recommendations on how to achieve it.

Summary

  • Shortly after independence in 2011, South Sudan fell into civil war. A regional peace agreement has effectively collapsed, and the international community has no clear strategy on how to proceed.
  • The war has destroyed South Sudan’s limited infrastructure, triggering an economic implosion. What electricity it has—and it is the least electrified country in the world—depends entirely on imported diesel to run generators.
  • Insecurity and hyperinflation have made diesel scarce and created a thriving black market, leading to some of the highest energy costs in the region.
  • The UN peacekeeping mission and international humanitarian operations have a combined budget of more than $2 billion per year. These operations are almost exclusively diesel powered.
  • Renewable energy costs have dropped dramatically in recent years, and usage has increased accordingly worldwide. These gains have not yet reached South Sudan and other conflict settings.
  • Transitioning internationally supported humanitarian operations from diesel to renewable energy would unlock numerous near-term and longer-term benefits.
  • As building blocks for peace, these benefits would help expand and diversify South Sudan’s energy sector and contribute to a green pivot to help soften a crippling dependence on fossil fuel.
  • The transition could occur in three contexts: individual nongovernmental organization compounds, health facilities such as hospitals and clinics, and the humanitarian operations servicing internally displaced persons camps outside the destroyed regional capitals of Bentiu and Malakal.
  • International humanitarian funding generally operates on short-term cycles and thus is poorly suited for large infrastructure purchases such as solar-and-storage systems. New, innovative financing mechanisms may be required to facilitate this transition.
  • Such a program needs to be coupled with local training and capacity building if it is to empower a South Sudanese solar community to maintain, support, and grow the sector well beyond the current crisis.

About the Report

In the context of the civil war with no end in sight in South Sudan, this report outlines how a donor-led shift from the current total reliance on diesel to renewable energy can deliver short-term humanitarian cost savings while creating a longer-term building block for peace in the form of a clean energy infrastructure. The report is supported by the Africa program at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Authors

David Mozersky is the cofounder of Energy Peace Partners and the founding director of the Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development at the University of California, Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab. He has been involved with peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts in South Sudan for more than fifteen years. Daniel Kammen is a professor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group and a professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He served as science envoy for the U.S. State Department in 2016 and 2017.

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