Powering Ahead: The United Nations and Somalia’s Renewable Energy Opportunity


Executive Summary

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.

This report looks specifically at the major role energy plays in consolidating peace in Somalia. Somalia is among the least electrified countries in the world. According to the World Bank, the share of the population that has access to electricity is only 36 percent, and only 11 percent in rural areas. The country has a completely decentralized energy sector that has largely evolved in the absence of government and regulations, and is made up of dozens of mostly small, hyperlocal, privately owned energy companies, each operating mini-grids to electrify their communities. These are overwhelmingly powered by generators run on imported fossil fuel (diesel) despite the many negative consequences of this approach, including environmental (burning dirty, low-quality diesel); economic (one of the highest electricity costs in the world); and insecurity (al-Shabab controls and taxes nearly all diesel supply chains throughout the country, forming an important revenue source for the insurgency). Renewable energy offers an attractive option to expand new energy access to electricity in the country, and has growing support from both private sector and government backers. While a handful of successful renewable-energy projects have emerged, access to traditional financing poses a significant challenge for the sector and for ambitions around a larger transition to clean energy.

The UN and AU missions play important roles in supporting governance, providing security, and helping move toward a transition to peace and sustainable development. While the specific institutional arrangements are unique to Somalia, the energy practices of the UN are similar to those in other international peace operations in fragile contexts; they are overwhelmingly dependent on diesel generators for power, and represent sizable energy footprints in the areas where they are deployed. Indeed, the UN alone has approximately 65 megawatts (MW) of generator capacity, while Somalia's official energy figures show only 125 MW of total installed electricity generation capacity in the entire country. The UN's dependence on diesel is expensive and detrimental to the environment, and it creates security vulnerabilities for both the UN and the AU. The UN is taking a proactive role toward climate change in Somalia, having introduced the first-ever role of climate security advisor to the UN mission. In addition, the UN system has set ambitious internal renewable-energy and climate targets through two separate initiatives, the UN Secretariat Climate Action Plan (UNSCAP) and Phase 2 of the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS) Environment Strategy for Peace Operations. However, much remains to be done to make progress toward achieving those goals.

Building on these existing policy frameworks and ambitious climate goals, the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) has entered into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a commercial renewable-energy company in the town of Baidoa. Although PPAs are common in the private sector, this is the first instance of a UN peace operation entering into this type of arrangement. The PPA allows UNSOS to buy clean energy at a contracted term and price from a solar plant that will be financed and built by a private-sector entity. This commitment from the UN, along with a similar commitment from the local government of Southwest State, provides a way to leverage the UN's considerable purchasing power to support new clean-energy projects coming online while avoiding the challenges associated with the attempt to finance, build, and manage such a project under the UN's existing budget and procurement policies and practices.

The PPA being tested in Baidoa offers a model for consideration in other sites in Somalia, as well as in other UN peace operations. The PPA model presents several notable benefits. First, it offers a way to rapidly scale the UN's use of renewables, offering a viable pathway to meet its ambitious climate goals, including the UNSCAP goal of reaching 80 percent renewable-energy use by 2030. Second, the use of PPAs to leverage new private-sector investment can be scaled for renewable-energy projects across Somalia, helping to overcome a key capacity challenge for the national electrification strategy. Third, by extending the benefits of new energy access from UN missions to local communities, this strategy can support broader peace and development goals: it will reduce diesel tax revenue flowing to Al-Shabab, while supporting the numerous socioeconomic benefits associated with expanded energy access that are aligned with Somali federal and regional development plans.