By Nicholas Mancusi ’10
Most people in Somaliland get their power from massive diesel generators. Two alumni hope to make solar units a better option.[Energy] Around the world, an estimated 1.5 billion people live unconnected to a serviceable power grid. Christian Nicolas Desrosiers ’10 (below left) and Nigel Carr ’10 want to get to them first.
In 2012 the pair, who met as freshmen on the men’s lacrosse team, founded Qorax Energy, which is, to date, the only renewable-energy research firm operating in Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia. If it can reach underserved citizens and provide them with renewable power, Qorax will not only stem the proliferation of ecologically unsound and finite energy sources but also give self-reliance and economic independence a chance to flourish in Somaliland.
Twenty years ago, the Somali Civil War ravaged Somaliland’s infrastructure, and much of it was never repaired. Today, Somalilanders get most of their power from factories that run massive diesel generators, which rely on a huge amount of fuel trucked in from abroad.
Something as simple as a damaged road can cause massive outages. Despite the fact that the power companies operate on razor-thin margins, Somaliland electricity is some of the most expensive in the world: energy costs represent around 30 percent of average household expenditures.
Civil war ravaged Somaliland’s infrastructure, and much of it was never repaired. Photo courtesy Qorax
Desrosiers learned about this insufficient infrastructure firsthand. After teaching English in Indonesia on a Fulbright Scholarship (to “get as far from my personal experience as possible,” he says) he got a job at Gollis University in Somaliliand’s capital city of Hargeisa, where many of his students were government officials or industry leaders.
Back in the United States, he and Carr formed their idea over lunch. Carr had gained experience in the energy industry while working for Brightfields Development, an environmental consulting company founded by Pete Pedersen ’80. With a third partner on board—Abdishakur Mohamoud, a Somali man who is fluent in English, Chinese and Arabic—Qorax was formed in December 2012.
Qorax (the name is the Somali word for “sun”; don’t pronounce the X) is really two separate entities, which together represent the founders’ full-spectrum approach to the power problem. Qorax Energy is the functional arm; it conducts feasibility studies and will eventually be responsible for the installation of self-contained solar units in households and businesses. Qorax Gollis Renewables is a complementary program the partners established at Gollis University with a $112,000 grant from the World Bank. It aims to educate a local workforce on how to create and maintain a renewable energy network.
Desrosiers is now studying urban planning at MIT, while Carr continues to work at Brightfields, but they hope to devote more time to Qorax soon. Their first project, a solar unit composed of 2,500 square feet of paneling on the roof of a Hargeisa maternity hospital, should be under construction by June. When it’s up and running, it will be the first private-investor-backed solar installation in the history of Somalia.
“Everyone understands that the power system in Somaliland is going to change very soon,” says Desrosiers. Ethiopia, a literal powerhouse in the region, has extended its transmission lines right up the border and would love for its neighbors to become dependent on them for power. Qorax aims to offer a better option. When the first Somalilander reads a book under a lamp powered by his own solar unit instead of by foreign fuel, these young alums will have literally fulfilled the motto of Amherst College and brought light to the world.
Nicholas Mancusi ’10 has a Daily Beast column and blogs at Galleyist.com. His writing has appeared in Newsday, American Arts Quarterly and elsewhere.