Where do you go to find the most revolutionary thinking in solar technology? You guessed it: Ethiopia.

The big idea comes courtesy of the Solar Energy Foundation, a German non-profit and member of the Clinton Global Initiative, who partnered with Good Energies Inc. to bring solar energy to more than 5,500 Ethiopian homes using over 1,100 solar panels. It’s the brainchild of former German solar energy CEO Harald Schutzeichel, who founded the foundation in 2004 following a visit to Ethiopia with a German NGO.

I realized during my visit that in rural areas, energy is needed for economic and social growth. To bring solar power to rural areas is, in my opinion, part of poverty alleviation, because energy is one of the vital keys to education, health, and development,” says Schutzeichel.

Just as vital as installing sustainable energy in the region has been the need to empower locals and stimulate job creation. The Foundation has so far hired 40 solar technicians in four different solar centers, with plans to build six more around the country, with the hopes of building a final network of 50 centers. “My experience is that most solar projects in rural areas in Africa and Asia failed because there is nobody responsible for maintenance and service. That’s the reason why we started to establish a network of solar centers all over Ethiopia,” says Schutzeichel. Later in the year, the Foundation will start building in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, India, and Philippines.

Financing is still an obstacle but the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive and Schutzeichel is working to make 2009 and 2010 a major period of growth for the Solar Energy Foundation, he says.