Somalia: the potential of solar in a war zone

The new repThe new report “Powering Ahead: The United Nations and Somalia’s Renewable Energy Opportunity” looks specifically at the major role energy plays in consolidating peace in Somalia.ort “Powering Ahead: The United Nations and Somalia’s Renewable Energy Opportunity” looks specifically at the major role energy plays in consolidating peace in Somalia.

Somalia faces challenges that are among the most complex of any country in the world. More than 30 years after the state collapsed, efforts aimed at rebuilding a functioning government system, improving security, and expanding the economy continue to inch ahead in the face of a serious ongoing Al-Shabab insurgency and the growing impacts of climate change. Much of the international community’s support for these efforts comes through a joint effort by the United Nations (UN) peace and support missions (UNSOM and UNSOS, respectively), and an African Union (AU) peace operation (AMISOM). Yet there is an opportunity to accelerate one aspect of sustainable peace: expanding access to renewable energy.


Key findings

  1. Somalia is one of the least electrified countries in the world, a challenge that inhibits the country’s economic potential and sustainable growth. However, the government has the opportunity to expand access to energy, particularly through renewable energy, to support a range of development, security, economic, and climate goals in the country. This is a matter of importance to the UN, including member states and the Secretariat, the Somali government, and the people of Somalia.
  2. Somalia’s energy sector is extremely decentralized, and distributed mini-grids offer the most feasible way to rapidly expand energy access. The energy sector comprises mostly small and localized privatesector electricity service providers, who have evolved in the absence of a functioning government or government structures. Diesel-powered, localized mini-grids dominate, with al-Shabab earning revenue from the taxation of diesel supply chains, among other things, all across the country.
  3. Renewable energy is feasible, offers numerous benefits to communities, and is drawing increasing interest from electricity service providers. Yet financing challenges are hindering growth, and the ability of the Federal Government and federal member states to help in this regard is limited. Somalia’s vibrant private sector has filled many of the gaps in services traditionally provided by government, but the country’s still low levels of electrification demonstrate the daunting challenges. Electricity service providers are increasingly interested in transitioning to renewable energy for both economic and environmental reasons, but the lack of a functioning banking sector makes the up-front financing requirements of renewable energy difficult to overcome. While a few promising examples have emerged, these are the exception rather than the rule.
  4. The UN/UNSOS can play a role an important role in supporting Somalia’s energy transition, but faces institutional challenges of its own. The UN’s transition to renewable energy has started and is driven by a number of factors – from practical considerations, such as the need to cut costs and mitigate the security impacts of its current dependence on diesel, to the institutional commitments reflected in the UNSCAP and the DOS Environment Strategy. The UN faces a number of hurdles in implementing this transition in Somalia; while some are unique to Somalia, others are rooted in the organizational culture of the UN. In addition to gaps in resources and expertise, at both the field and headquarters levels, a major challenge is the disconnect between high-level objectives and the work of individuals on the ground. The responsibilities and expected contributions of units and individuals toward these organizational objectives remain undefined, and most of the progress made to date has been the result of efforts by individuals who proactively acted within the scope of their existing responsibilities to reduce the environmental impact of mission operations. If it can find ways to overcome these challenges, the UN can be an important partner and catalyst for new renewable-energy projects across Somalia and in other field missions, an outcome that would advance UN objectives on climate, environment, and peace and security.
  5. Successful models exist. The Baidoa PPA presents an exciting new model for UN peace operations to partner with private-sector companies to launch new renewable-energy projects, offering a way to benefit UN missions and local communities. The Baidoa PPA between UNSOS and Kube Energy, and separately the memorandum of understanding between Kube Energy and the government of Southwest State, is breaking important new ground for UN peace operations. By engaging as an energy consumer and outsourcing its energy generation to the private sector, UNSOS can mitigate many internal challenges that hinder renewable-energy transitions at scale in field missions. At the same time, this model leverages the considerable purchasing power of UNSOS to make project financing viable for the private-sector partner. The partnership of Kube Energy with the government of Southwest State creates the conditions for the project and expands its benefits well beyond UNSOS to local government and, ultimately, to local communities. This model could be scaled elsewhere in Somalia, and beyond, and the UN should immediately look to expand this model to other locations.


Excerpt of: Powering ahead: The United Nations and Somalia’s Renewable Energy Opportunity, by The Stimson Center and Energy Peace Partners, 2022.


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