4 May 2021 The trend of installing solar power continued within the UN system in 2020

This indicates alignment with the commitments in the UN Sustainability Strategy 2020-2030, Phase I: Environmental Sustainability in the Area of Management to “Optimize electricity consumption in facilities” and “Switch to renewable energy sources”. It also reveals the ability of UN entities to “do good,” lead by example, and demonstrate innovative implementation of norms and principles that the UN advocates, something that is called for in the UN Sustainability Strategy.  

Below follow four telling cases of the trend. 

Home Backup PV systems across FAO offices

In light of the context of home offices during the Covid-19 pandemic, FAO County offices have installed small photovoltaic (PV) backup systems in the homes of selected staff to ensure business continuity.  These systems were selected instead of diesel generator backup systems. 

The acceptance of using home PV backup systems rather than diesel generators appears to represent a mindset change. In previous times and instances, the first choice for power backup in FAO was diesel generators. This change coincides with likely drivers such as the consistent work of the Corporate Environmental Responsibility (CER ) Team of FAO Headquarters to promote sustainability measures and initiatives across FAO, the amplified drive towards sustainability in the UN system, and increased individual awareness of environmental issues.

Since business continuity was a primary concern and motivation behind this effort, staff were selected based on assessments of their access to resources, their work and position, and the grid reliability in the country where they are situated. 

By the end of 2020, FAO offices in Liberia, Eritrea, Lesotho, Central African Republic, Malawi, and FAO’s sub-regional office for Southern Africa in Zimbabwe had all begun procurement and/or installation of such home solar systems. Already by July 2020, the county office in Harare had installed 26 home solar systems. In FAO Lesotho, the installed PV backup systems have been deemed invaluable in facilitating business continuity during the lockdown and connecting critical staff with key stakeholders. 

The CER Team of FAO Headquarters, in conjunction with the FAO Representations' network, will continue to collaborate in the procurement of these devices for staff in vulnerable locations.


Increased energy reliability with solar power at FAO office in Mauritania  

In February 2020, FAO Headquarters, FAO Mauritania, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) completed the installation of a new hybrid energy system for the FAO Mauritania country office in Nouakchott. Via the collaboration with UNDP, FAO enjoyed the fruits of UNDP’s technical support and guidance, as well as the benefits from long-term agreements that UNDP has with specialized companies in the solar industry. 

The system consists of a 29 kWp PV system and a 36 kWh lithium-ion battery. Since the completion of the system, it has proven to reduce the reliance on the national grid and ensure business continuity in case of power outages. Such outages could be highly disruptive as they occur up to three times per week and last for 15 minutes to three hours. In 2020, comparing the new PV hybrid system with a diesel generator backup system, the system was observed to yield CO2 e savings of 11.8 tonnes, and monetary savings of $4,720.   

Solar power towards self suppliance of energy at UNICEF in Tanzania

On January 29, 2020, a solar plant system was completed and put to work at the building of UNICEF in Tanzania. This is anticipated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the building by 170-210 tonnes  CO2 e. With only the exemption of the cloudiest days, the system will provide daily all the energy needed to operate the building.

The installation of the solar plant required an initial investment of USD 146,000.  A majority of the investment, $115,000, was funded by The Greening and Accessibility Fund (GrAF)*, which is managed by the Division of Financial and Administrative Management (DFAM) of UNICEF. The solar panels have a low maintenance cost and a lifespan of approximately 25 years. The initial investment is believed to be recovered within 9 years of operation. After this, the system will result in annual savings in energy costs for the remainder of its lifetime. 


New wastewater plant at UNDOF powered with new solar power 

UNDOF faced an increased power demand due to the installation of new wastewater treatment plants. Instead of meeting this increased energy demand with fossil fuels, the Field Mission decided to implement three PV systems at Troop Contributing Country (TCC ) camps and UNDOF positions. 

The first PV system was installed in August 2020 at TCC Camp Ziouani and has a capacity of 250 kWp. The second system was installed in December 2020 at Position 37 of the camp and has a capacity of 50 kWp. Lastly, the third system will be installed in May 2021 at Position 22 of the camps and is planned to have a capacity of 50 kWp. In total, the three plants are estimated to generate about 456MWh per year. From this, UNDOF expects there to be a reduction of 250 tonnes of annual  CO2 e emissions. 



* UNICEF Offices can access the GrAF, generated by its 3% air travel surcharge, to finance or co-finance small-scale Environmental Impact Reduction as well as Accessibility Improvement projects.

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