The dramatic decrease in the cost of renewable energy technologies seen in recent years presents an unprecedented opportunity to improve our access to energy—and create employment in the process. This is especially true in Somaliland, where more than 80% of the local population of 3.5 million does not have access to modern electricity.
Somaliland’s small economy cannot afford large investments in the infrastructure needed for generating energy in the more traditional, 20th century sense. Running electricity lines over long distances to reach a geographically dispersed, off-grid population is simply uneconomical. Moreover, at US$0.85 per kilowatt, the cost of electricity in Somaliland is among the highest in the world.
The alternative is to promote renewable energy innovations, such as pico-solar products, off-grid and on-grid small-scale solar systems, and solar-powered irrigation systems. This will create considerable employment opportunities for the large number of Somali youth (comprising 67% of the population), particularly in distribution, sales, installation, and maintenance.
Affordable and reliable electricity is an indispensable prerequisite for economic development: if families can get affordable and reliable electricity, economic activities will increase, incomes will rise, and more money can be invested in local businesses and education. This fosters hope in locally sourced energy solutions as a means of employment, and deters youths from migrating to urban areas or fleeing to Europe along dangerous routes purely for the sake of social and economic advancement.
I was raised in a rural village and the lack of access to modern electricity has affected me personally. This later inspired me to start my own renewable energy company, which I did in December 2014. SomLite is a solar product, distribution and financing social enterprise that focuses on bringing economic advancement to rural and peri-urban communities through access to renewable energy.
We provide good quality solar lanterns, sourced from proven manufacturers, and make these units affordable for rural customers through daily payment instalment plans, made via local mobile money services. Most importantly, our market entry strategy includes recruiting sales agents local to the communities in which we operate. As of today, SomLite has directly created 29 jobs (5 managers and 24 sales agents), of which 15 have gone to women.
Somlite is also currently piloting solar-powered water pumps for irrigation that will reduce the cost of energy for rural farmers and increase agricultural productivity. This will lead to domestic agricultural growth and create jobs in the agricultural industry. Although most of Somlite’s jobs have been created in rural areas, we plan to roll out this successful model in urban areas by commercializing on-grid, rooftop solar. Our five-year plan is to continue to expand, in order to generate both energy and jobs for all Somalis in surrounding regions.
Overall, promoting access to energy, and channelling investment to off-grid and on-grid renewable energy technologies, will catalyse the economy and create jobs for Somali youth. Investing in local and innovative solutions can reduce rural poverty, increase productivity, and curb unsafe migration to urban areas in Somaliland and beyond.