Renewables In Somaliland: A Very Brief Discussion

The month of Ramadan has been moving very quickly here. Eighteen days have already passed and it feels like no time at all. For those who do not know, Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is spent fasting—no food or water until sundown. The lack of water and hydration during the day has led me to reflect on the apparent abundance of sunshine and, especially, heat in Somaliland. It seemed like as good a time as any to talk about some of the advantages of renewable energy in Somaliland. This will be a very brief discussion of the favorable circumstances for wind and solar.

In terms of availability, Somaliland presents an excellent opportunity for investment in renewable energy, with enormous advantages in terms of wind and solar. I’ll talk about wind first.

There is consistent wind across the country year round. On the coasts, wind speeds exceed 7 – 9 meters per second. 50% of the country has wind speeds that exceed 6 meters per second, which could be able to generate electricity on a large scale. And larger areas have wind speeds of more than 5 meters per second, which is suitable for water pumping and rural electricity generation. 

The Somaliland government recently launched a wind energy pilot project at two sites. They installed five 20-kilowatt wind turbines at Egal Airport in Hargeisa, and three more turbines will soon be completed just outside of the coastal city of Berbera. Additionally, the government has installed four wind data monitoring stations in Hargeisa, Borama, Berbera, and Burao, which can be monitored online.

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The major challenge for the wind model is that the upfront costs are much higher than those for diesel generation—some estimates show that 75% of the total cost is the upfront investment. Despite their maintenance costs being much lower than diesel generators, many local electricity providers have avoided these kinds of investments. However, since electricity prices are already at $1 per kilowatt-hour, and susceptible to the volatility of oil prices, these investments should be seen as a way to secure their long-term profitability, while avoiding unexpected future costs related to rising oil prices.

The government has developed a financial model for comparing the diesel and wind investments over time, which is available from the Somaliland Investment website.

Without going too deep into analysis of the model, wind energy’s upfront cost is much higher than diesel generators, but the absence of fuel costs mean that the investment is recovered after three years, and opens the door to cheaper electricity while still maintaining profitability.

With that, let’s talk briefly about solar. 

Somaliland receives 3,000 hours of sunshine every year. According to NASA’s data on surface meteorology and solar energy, Somaliland is an excellent resource for large-scale solar deployment. The below chart illustrates the amount of solar radiation shown as kWh/m2/day, which has been averaged over a twenty-two year time-frame.

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 I’m sorry, but can we just take a second here to pause, relax, and bask in the fact that I was able to use NASA as a resource for this blog post?

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 Okay, back to business. 

Averaged over the entire country, this translates to roughly 5.8 to 6.0 kilowatt-hours per squared meter per day (kWh/m2/day), which is shown graphically in the map below.

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Many areas around the world have successfully introduced mainstream solar through programs like Net Energy Metering, where homeowners install solar on their roofs and offset their electric bills by putting as much energy onto the grid than they are using, even though they have become somewhat controversial recently. However, Somaliland’s electrical grid is not capable of supporting the additional load and monitoring that would be required for such a program - at least for the time being. Therefore, there are two options available in the near-term: on-grid solar and off-grid solar. 

On-grid solar would mean that the utilities would install solar panels for large-scale electricity generation to be distributed on an existing electric grid. These projects require large initial investments, which Somaliland utilities have been unable or unwilling to make. Off-grid solar would mean a that a homeowner installs solar panels capable of providing all of the needed electricity for their home, and does not require an electric utility to provide electricity. This would mean that they would withdraw from the electrical grid entirely. There are gray areas in both of these scenarios and they generally depend on a number of different variables in any given home, city, or country.

The largest barriers to investments and adoption of wind and solar technologies in Somaliland are lack of finance, lack of electric regulation for utilities, and lack of technological expertise. That is why Qorax Energy is working with ATU to develop this local expertise and ensure that investments in renewable energy are lasting and impactful. Too often, major renewable energy investments in Africa fall short because they do not adequately build local capacity to ensure long-term sustainability of the investments. By working with local institutions to build local capacity, Qorax Energy is changing the formula for renewable investment in Africa. If you want to learn more, you can read about Qorax Energy and EnerSom, their first energy portfolio company, in their latest blog post. 

You may have noticed that I did not discuss the finance or regulatory barriers that I mentioned above. That is a story that will have to wait for another day.

More details and additional information regarding solar and wind energy in Somaliland can be found in the Somaliland Investment Guide.

Energy, Poverty, and Gender

The eight Millennium Development Goals were established in 2000 and agreed to by all UN member states, who committed to achieving them by 2015. They are as follows:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Establish a global partnership for development

It was difficult to find data specific to Somaliland regarding these issues and the MDGs, but there is a list of projects being undertaken by the Somaliland Development Fund, as well as a map of their geographical distribution. Information related to Somalia and the MDGs is incomplete and difficult to collect in the field for a number of reasons. 

The Millennium Development Goals are relevant because, while energy is not explicitly mentioned in any of these goals, it is important to understand that they underly the achievement of each one of them. According to a 2005 report from the UN Millennium Project, “Even though no MDG refers to energy explicitly, improved energy services—including modern cooking fuels, improved cookstoves, increased sustainable biomass production, and expanded access to electricity and mechanical power—are necessary for meeting all the Goals.” 

According to the same report, access to electricity enhances education and healthcare services, where a lack of energy can inhibit sterilization of medical equipment, water purification, sanitation, and refrigeration of medicine. Electricity can power machines for income-generating opportunities like pumping water, food processing, clothing production, and manufacturing. Additionally, more rural areas without electricity and energy services are unlikely to attract more-educated workers, which further limits local opportunities.

In many areas without electricity and areas where high electricity rates can be prohibitive, most of the cooking is done with charcoal on traditional cookstoves. 

In my own research, nearly 90% of interviewees reported cooking with charcoal on stoves like the one below. That number would be higher, but a considerable number of respondents from poorer communities explained that charcoal was too expensive, and they search the surrounding areas for firewood.

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Photo taken June 29, 2014

These stoves cost around $3, last a maximum of three months, and have considerable negative impacts on health and well-being. 

“Cooking with fuelwood, crop residues, and dung is associated with a significantly higher disease burden than other forms of cooking, due to indoor air pollution. Cleaner fuels and cookstoves that facilitate lower smoke exposures, as well as improved ventilation of cooking areas, can reduce the disease burden from smoke, lower child mortality rates, and improve maternal health. Greater efficiency, combined with enhancements in biomass fuel availability through such programs as agroforestry, can also reduce the time and transport burden of women and young girls who collect biomass, thereby increasing opportunities for education and income-generating work. These and other improvements can all lessen the pressure on fragile ecosystems.”

-UN Millenium Project

It’s important to note that many energy-related issues, like the one above, have a gender bias, and women tend to be more affected by energy issues than men.

Before going any further, it is important to note that there is a difference between large-scale and small-scale energy investments. Many energy investments for development purposes have favored large-scale, capital intensive investments that develop formal sectors  of the economy like cash crops and mechanical production. This is generally a male-dominated arena which does not have as large of an impact on women.

Women are generally impacted more by investments in small-scale activities where women use their own power. Some of these activities include food processing, water procurement, transportation of water and fuel. These areas are generally not included in energy planning and women tend to be excluded from any possible benefits. Investments in more efficient cookstoves that produce less smoke, use less fuel, and last much longer than traditional stoves.

As it stands now, in many areas of the world, poor women on average have a more difficult time than men do. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Program:

“They often spend long hours collecting fuel wood and carrying it back home over long distances. The time and labour expended in this way exhausts them and limits their ability to engage in other productive and income-generating activities. Their health suffers from hauling heavy loads of fuel and water, and from cooking over smoky fires. Their opportunities for education and income generation are limited by lack of modern energy services, and as a result their families and communities are likely to remain trapped in poverty.” 

Targeted investments in energy-related projects in areas like Somaliland can help to prevent disease from breathing in toxic fumes, generate income for families spending less on expensive fuels, and contribute greatly to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Facing An Electric Paradox

This post will review the process of electricity generation in Somaliland as well as review the reasons behind high electricity costs while discussing some of the social impacts of these high prices.

Yesterday I visited a village known as “Kandahar,” a village that had been forcibly relocated by the Somaliland government a few years ago. The visit was organized by Abaarso Tech University, who are partnering with Qorax Energy to train entrepreneurs to find market-based, renewable energy solutions to Somaliland’s energy problems.

Since their relocation, they have received assistance from groups like the Norwegian Refugee Council, who have been active in encouraging solar in the area. I interviewed families with a representative from Abaarso Tech University about their energy consumption and asked them about some of the issues they are facing as a result of high energy costs. While many of them have access to electricity, many of them have gotten rid of it altogether because the costs are so high. 

This prompted me to ask the question, what makes electricity so much more expensive here?

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A photo of “Kandahar,” taken June 26th, 2014

In the aftermath of civil war during the 80s and 90s, and after claiming independence from the rest of the Somalia in 1991, Somaliland struggled to rebuild infrastructure in their new state. There was no electricity, no roads, and much had been destroyed during the conflict.

Companies like National, who began by selling gasoline at the time, found that they needed electricity in order to pump gasoline and run their business. They purchased used generators from other countries so that they could handle the demand of their small business. When they realized that the generators produced more power than they needed, they began to sell excess electricity to neighbors and nearby businesses to earn extra profit. And thus, an electric utility was born.

At times, there have been upwards of at least twenty electric utilities in Somaliland at once. All of them use diesel generators to produce electricity. They purchase fuel from the Port of Berbera for roughly $170 to $200 per barrel, depending on their location and transportation costs. Oil is considered the most convenient means for generation because it is easy to transport and store, but is one of the least efficient. Fuel is stored in containers like the one below:

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Many of the generators that are being used to generate electricity were purchased second hand from other countries that have already upgraded their own system of generation. They range in age from 5 to 20 years old, some even older, and many of them have had their make and model scratched off. According to a 2011 report:

"Because most Somaliland electricity traders are not necessarily engineers, the Middle Eastern companies usually have a technical advantage vis a vis Somaliland traders and buyers and are able to sell them obsolete machinery."

USAID Private Sector Assessment of Somaliland, Page 177

The utilities have no means of measuring the operating efficiency of their generators or measuring the amount of electricity being generated on a daily basis.

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An electric transformer for Afgaal Electric Company

Likewise, the utilities have no way of monitoring how much loss there is around the city from faulty wires. They estimate that it is roughly 30%, but it could be much higher. 

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Electrical wires hang above Afgaal Electric Company’s main power station

The utilities vary from city to city. In more populous areas like Hargeisa, there are multiple utilities governing the same neighborhoods; in other areas, there may be only a single utility available. Regardless of whether or not there are competing utilities, residents pay an average of $1.00 per kilowatt-hour, which is one of the highest rates in the world. This becomes even more troubling when one considers that GDP in 2012 was $1.4 billion, which translates to roughly $347 per head, which is the fourth lowest in the world. 

To help illustrate how prohibitively expensive this is, here’s a few figures to think about:

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Based on information from Statista and World Bank

There is currently legislation in the Somaliland Parliament that would create an Energy Law. If passed, the law would  create an Energy Commission to oversee the utilities. However, as it stands now, there is no body to regulate and oversee the sector. This means that policies vary from one company to another. For example, in many areas of Somaliland, there are mandatory minimum payments for electricity each month, which range from $8 to $15 per month, which is a huge burden to place on lower income families.

Here’s an example: I interviewed one individual who was paying an average of $20 per month for electricity (consuming roughly 20 kilowatt-hours per month). Fed up with the high rates for his low use (lighting his home and charging his families phones), he saved money and bought a 10-watt solar panel for USD 100 to power four lights in his home. As a result, his consumption dropped from 20 kilowatt-hours to just 7 kilowatt-hours. However, because of the mandatory minimum payments required by his utility provider, his bill only dropped to USD 15. While his consumption dropped by 65%, his payments only dropped by 25%. This requirement makes his payback period on this investment roughly twenty months, rather than just under eight months if there was no mandatory minimum electrical payment.

Consumers and producers are in a similar situation regarding electricity at the moment. The utilities can’t raise prices without further prohibiting access to electricity. They also can’t make investments in infrastructure to drive down prices and increase access unless they find additional capital. In places like Kandahar, with high rates of poverty and unemployment, the minimum requirements have caused many families to cut their power altogether. Instead, they are reverting back to kerosene lanterns and battery-powered flashlights. Effectively, some areas are being forced backwards.

The Road to Berbera: The Camel’s Back

Last week I drove out to Berbera to interview families and businesses. It was about a three-hour ride from Hergeisa through the desert. The road itself is as potholed as any other road I’ve driven on in Africa but there are far more camels and warthogs on this one than I have ever seen. There are no wild camels, though, and their owners  are never far away, making sure that they don’t stray too far away when they’re feeding. It’s always tough to tell whether they’re being bred for camel meat or camel milk, but the cities are full of both.

Every few miles we would drive through a small gully, filled with sand. I commented to my coworker, Abdishakur, that they looked like dried riverbeds, and was quickly corrected. Apparently when it rains, it rains so hard that the water flows into these gullies and burns canals through the landscape. If you look to either your right or left when driving through one of these, you can see camels being herded from one grazing area to another.

At one point, we passed through one of these canals and found cars lined up for a quarter mile in both directions. The winds were blowing so strong that they had covered the road with two feet of sand and a truck carrying cattle to  Berbera had tried to plow their way through, trapping themselves  in the middle. A group of roughly ten men were digging it out by hand for at least an hour before we arrived. We waited about thirty minutes before remembering that our vehicle had four-wheel drive, and decided to take our chances on the sand, which was ran the risk of trapping us for even longer if we got stuck in a patch of soft sand—but we were wakhti ga Maraykanka (on America time). Luckily, it worked, and 30 minutes later we were in Berbera, and hot as all hell.

Berbera is an ancient city on the gulf of Aden. It has been mentioned as early as the first century C.E. in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century. In the book, the city is believed to be the city of Manao and is described in the following way:

“After Avalites there is another market-town, better than this, called Malao, distant a sail of about eight hundred stadia. The anchorage is an open roadstead, sheltered by a spit running out from the east. Here the natives are more peaceable. There are imported into this place the things already mentioned, and many tunics, cloaks from Arsinoe, dressed and dyed; drinking-cups, sheets of soft copper in small quantity, iron, and gold and silver coin, not much. There are exported from these places myrrh, a little frankincense, (that known as far-side), the harder cinnamon, duaca, Indian copal and macir, which are imported into Arabia; and slaves, but rarely.”

Today, as then, Berbera is known for its port. Fishermen patrol the coastline while huge tankers and cargo ships wait to enter and dock at the harbor. Abdishakur and I were able to interview a number of families and businesses on the shore. One business owner we interviewed was an icemaker. He paid for an enormous cooling unit to create ice all day for fishermen who needed to store their catch when they pulled into shore. The cost of electricity forces him to raise his prices to a level that makes him nearly uncompetitive. My predecessor described this situation well:

“Ice is a high-demand commodity, especially given the port’s nascent fishing industry, but one which requires large inputs of energy. The owner estimates that if he runs the machine for three hours he can make one ton of ice, which will sell for $200*.  However, running the machine costs approximately $1/kilowatt hour, so just running the machine for a normal workday will cost him $80 per day, which will significantly eat into his profits.”

I was able to visit the single electric utility that operates in Berbera. One of the challenges facing businesses and consumers is that the utility industry lacks a regulatory framework and, up to this point, coordination has been fairly uncommon. This means that there are many cities working with only a single utility operator with little or no incentive to make their prices competitive or reasonable. There are no laws governing the electricity rates, discounts for businesses are organized informally, and some will enforce mandatory minimum amounts for poor families who may not use as much as others. 

The utility in Berbera has four generators, all of them fairly new and powering the entire city. There is no way to test their efficiency or monitor how many kilowatts are being generated and sent onto the grid.

The Berbera Power Station

One of four diesel generators

Qorax Energy is trying to solve these problems by finding market-based solutions to minimize energy costs and also working with local universities and partnerships to train technicians to work with renewable technology. In the past, when developing countries have explored solar or other renewable technologies, they have run into problems regarding maintenance, as very few local people have the training to handle these high-tech issues. Thats why Qorax Energy has been working with local universities to develop these skills and ensure that these solutions are effective as well as lasting.

I titled this post “The Camel’s Back” for two reasons.

  1. I’ve been drinking and eating a lot of camel milk and  camel meat
  2. Many business owners and consumers have told me that if electricity prices get any higher, they will have to close their business or cut their power

My next few posts will be examining the energy system with more depth and will begin to answer some of the questions I have raised in previous posts. My hope is that you will also see that the camel’s back is just as promising as it is discouraging. If left to carry on as they are now, the energy prices will keep poor families in poverty, stifle business development, and hurt the government’s ability to regulate. However, if you know enough about the current system and the culture, it can become a tipping point, and be a force for change towards large-scale sustainable energy in the region. (More on that later)

Space Gazelles: Deforestation and Energy Consumption

In this post, I am going to look at deforestation in Somaliland, discuss it’s contributing factors, and then discuss the role that energy plays for better or worse. 
Somalia has been called a “Nation of Poets” because of their highly literary culture and history. Somaliland is no different in this regard. As such, I wanted to start off this post with a poem used by northern pastoralists to describe their strategy for scheduling the mating season for their flocks. In the past, farmers and pastoralists could make assessments of the ideal times to mate their livestock based on the mating habits of local gazelles. A Somali poem describing this relationship is copied below:

Somali (because it’s fun!):

Markuu cawlku cawlaa orgayn, waa u cibaaroone,

Cisaday ku uuraysatiyo, caadaduu garane,

Cashaday calool gelahayaan, cannugga beertiisu,

Curcurradiyo lawyada intuu, ku cuskaduu saaro,

Cirridiyo cagaar miday ku dhalan, caadka kor u eegye,

Hadba cirirka loo nuuriyuu, ku cimro-qaataaye

English (because Somali is really hard…):

When the male ‘Cawl’ wishes to mate with his females,

He first makes astronomical calculations,

He knows their menstrual periods and the techniques of mating,

The day he wishes to cause propagation and off springs,

He, placing first his front knees on to the female’s back,

Judges whether the young will be born in sun or green from the signs in the heavens,

His decision whether to continue mating or to descend is in accordance with his celestial inductions

It has been shown that some gazelles can delay the birth date of their young if the conditions are not right, and will wait until a rainy season to deliver calves. Herders would monitor the mating habits of local gazelles, who were believed to be able to predict the next rainy season using the stars. This has been a useful strategy for avoiding negative impacts of an increasingly unpredictable rainy season.

However, due to rangeland degradation, deforestation, and hunting, the gazelle (nanger soemmeringii) is currently rated as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and is no longer considered an efficient indicator of proper mating dates. This has been exacerbated by rising temperatures and even more unpredictable starts to the rainy season each year.

The decline of this species is one result of a much larger and multifaceted problem facing Somaliland and many other countries in the Horn of Africa and  sub-Saharan Africa: trees are being cut down in great numbers in pastoral regions and being used to produce charcoal for cooking in rural and urban areas.  A 2011 report by USAID outlined the energy sector in Somaliland using the following figures:

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*Taken from 2011 USAID Private Sector Assessment of Somaliland

Biomass is fuel that is taken from biological materials like trees or dung. While many homes in major cities, like Hargeisa and Berbera, are supplied with electricity, many of them still use biomass for cooking and, to a lesser degree, heating. The most common form of biomass is charcoal, which is produced by cutting down trees, which are then converted  to charcoal.

In recent years, there have not been sufficient amounts of dead, dry trees to cut down. As a result, sixty-five percent of the charcoal brought to Hargeisa and Berbera is produced from cutting down live trees. This means that the soil is being deprived of nutrients and losing its ability to retain moisture to foster new growth, resulting in fewer and fewer trees. This is being made worse by the increasingly dry climate, which makes it difficult for trees to regrow quickly, and the unpredictable rainfall patterns. As trees in the northern areas of Somaliland are disappearing, much of the charcoal production has been shifted to Ethiopia, which further raises transportation costs.

The average family uses 4 sacks of charcoal per month, which, in 2011 and 2012, cost an average of $5 to $5.50 each. However, based on recent studies, the average cost has risen to roughly $10 for each sack of charcoal, raising the total to $40 for the average family per month. This is consistent with the interviews I have conducted with Qorax Energy.

Traditional methods of charcoal conversion can take eight to ten tons of wood to make one ton of charcoal. Estimates say that four trees are cut down to produce one sack of charcoal. According to the Ministry of Environment and Rural Developments, there are eight to ten trucks carrying up to 1,600 sacks of charcoal into the major city of Hargeisa every day.

According to a USAID study, the percent of biomass being used as a primary fuel is declining, but the price continues to rise. Qorax Energy has already begun to work with local entrepreneurs on market-driven alternatives to this trend in charcoal consumption. One solution is to use more efficient stoves that use less charcoal. Additionally, they have developed a curriculum in Natural Resource Economics for Abaarso Technical University that will help inform future entrepreneurs and policymakers to make sustainable decisions regarding environmental issues. Still, the challenge will be to limit the use of charcoal without crippling those individuals who depend on that industry for survival. Many of these issues are linked, and contributing to larger and more long-term problems that could dramatically impact economic productivity and social structures.  

With electricity becoming more readily available, many families and small businesses are finding it to be a more viable solution. However, there are a number of reasons why electricity could make matters worse, but I’ll discuss that more in my next post.

Arrival: Jet Lag and Tea Binging

My plane landed at 4 in the afternoon at Hargeisa International Airport, roughly 30 hours after I left Boston. The tarmac was in the middle of an open field just outside of the city, and there was a small fleet of planes parked in grassy spots near the main entrance. The walls still smelled like fresh paint when I handed my visa application and thirty dollars to a customs agent who sent me on my merry way. This was a convenient and quick entrance into what would be my home for the summer.

In addition to my experiences traveling in Somaliland, this blog will describe the energy sector in Somaliland and the potential for renewable energy investment. I am working on the ground in Hargeisa with Qorax Energy and its local partners and partner institutions to conduct market research on the renewable energy sector and present opportunities for investment. In order to fully understand the issues at hand, it will be necessary to understand this unique place from a cultural, historical, and social perspective.

Somalia is well known around the world for violent conflict and failed governance; it is often used as an example of how bad things can get in a given country or region. It is situated in the Horn of Africa, bordered to the northwest by Djibouti, to the west by Ethiopia, to the south by Kenya, and then jutting out into the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

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Somaliland is an autonomous region in northwest Somalia, bordered by Puntland, a second autonomous region in Somalia, to the east. Somaliland had been a British protectorate since 1884, and became its own independent country in 1960, before merging with Somalia a few days later. Frustrations arose immediately and reached a pressure point in 1988, when a Civil War broke out between the government  forces in Mogadishu and Somaliland rebels. It wasn’t until after the collapse of the Somali government that Somaliland officially declared independence on May 18, 1991.*

To this day, Somaliland is unrecognized by any country or international organization. However, the lack of international recognition has not slowed their spirit and drive to succeed, but it has hindered their access to private investment.

During my first few days in Hargeisa, I have been blown away by the energy of the city, and the dedication of its citizens to succeed. While the roads are as dusty and pot-holed as most African roads, the buildings and shops that run parallel are much more cosmopolitan than I had expected. Businessmen conduct meetings on their laptops, mobile money identifiers are pasted on restaurant walls, and Internet access abounds.

My research will be focused on electricity production in Somaliland. In order to produce electricity, imported petroleum is pumped through inefficient, second-hand generators with no manufacturer information. The electricity produced is wired through the city through wires that have been cut, split, and reconnected. There is no existing electric regulatory body to regulate the industry or monitor their distribution. As a result, there are more than forty utilities in Somaliland, many of whom cover the same areas. In certain cases, there are four utilities with electric wires running over the same streets and into different homes and businesses.

Consumers pay some of the highest prices for electricity in the world; often paying ten times what consumers in the United States would pay. Qorax Energy is trying to find renewable energy solutions to these problems and I am happy to be part of this project.

*http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/05/world/africa/05somaliland.html