Energy infrastructure is inconsistently distributed worldwide. As a result, much of the global population is without access to affordable electricity. This issue has been at the forefront of discussions surrounding energy, development, and social justice. President Obama started the Power Africa initiative last year and the UN continues to promote the Sustainable Energy for All campaign. Both of these high profile endeavors bring much needed attention to the energy access problem and promote creative and innovative solutions.

Qorax Energy provides sustainable electricity access within communities that lack energy infrastructure. As part of its programs in East Africa, the company recently launched an initiative in Somaliland with the help of the World Bank. Qorax (pronounced “ko-rah”) has partnered with Gollis University, a local institution with campuses in Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao, to create an 8-month training program for engineers in renewable energy technology and entrepreneurship. The curriculum in based in part on the NABCEP solar sales and installation certification standards. Graduates will exit the course with an understanding of energy concepts and a foundation of knowledge to address local energy issues. Ultimately, Qorax’s goal is to create a trained local workforce with the skills necessary to build, operate and maintain large-scale, grid-connected renewable energy generation projects.

The market in Somaliland provides a unique opportunity, as the retail cost of electricity from traditional sources is so high that renewables can compete without subsidies. Co-founder Nicolas Desrosiers stated in an interview with Breaking Energy that “Even without tax incentives and renewable energy credits, clean energy projects can provide a high returns for investors while simultaneously cutting in half the cost of electricity to consumers.” This context allows Qorax to develop their community-based solution. As it stands, the partnership Qorax has created with Gollis University is the only renewable energy training center in Somaliland. And yet, according to Desrosiers, “renewable energy is on everyone’s radar.”

The students in the current program, which began in January, will graduate with access to more efficient domestic energy technology products, specifically solar lamps, to distribute as franchisees. The program provides this access as well as technical support in exchange for sharing risk and a portion of the sales. Desrosiers contrasted this model with other development projects in the region, which often pass over the local work force and bring in contractors from abroad. Qorax’s partnership model creates a well-trained sustainable work force in the community that remains in the local economy.

Qorax hopes to expand into other “frontier and post-conflict markets.” The company is already starting work on a project in southern Somalia to demonstrate the viability of stand-alone diesel-PV hybrid systems, and is in the development stages of worker-owned cooperative in Kenya that would build clean cook stoves locally. According to Desrosiers, these different projects are not distinct – there is a common thread.  While both aim to reach communities with unreliable energy access before traditional fossil energy infrastructure, he explained that “the goal is to create an economic network and knowledge flow between the projects.”

This is certainly an interesting model to consider as the issue of electricity access in Africa is tackled by leaders worldwide. PowerGen Africa 2014 takes place this week in Cape Town, potentially addressing much of this in a more general way. As Desrosiers stated, “control of the electricity supply gives decision making power to communities.”