Top contenders claim winning the award, to be announced this month, will help them impact the lives of millions
One social enterprise is on a mission to promote sustainable development in every rural African community through renewable energy, another is aiming to extend the duration of electricity supply when resources are limited in refugee camps, and a third is providing power to remote areas. Providing solar solutions in Africa and Asia – these are the three finalists in the energy category of the 2023 Zayed Sustainability Prize.
They shared their inspiring stories with the Khaleej Times, claiming that winning the award, which will be announced this month, will help them impact the lives of millions.
Empowering women with clean energy, cooking fuel
With sustainability and women’s empowerment at its core, Cameroon-based Monique Ntumngia founded Girls Green Organization (GGO) in 2015 after realizing that electricity shortages were leading to a lack of education. Her social enterprise uses artificial intelligence and geospatial technologies to identify specific clean energy issues affecting rural communities in Africa.
Through GGO, she teaches women and girls how to generate solar energy and biogas from waste to use as a cleaner and affordable source of cooking fuel.
GGO uses an innovative algorithm, the MNKB92 model, to map the energy needs of different rural communities and, based on the data collected, choose the most appropriate solution – cleaner cooking fuel in the form of biogas or solar energy for the home.
“In 2015, I quit my job to start GGO, which uses modern technologies such as artificial intelligence to identify specific clean energy issues facing women and girls in rural African communities. By collecting data, we provide solutions that are community- and community-relevant,” says the self-taught entrepreneur.
So far, the company has trained 4,500 women in 68 villages in three African countries to build and sell solar-powered lanterns, install and maintain solar panels, and build and operate biodigesters. GGO plans to expand its operations to 17 countries in Africa.
Ntumngia noted that winning the award will allow GGO to impact 20 African countries, improving the lives of at least 1 million women and girls in 100 rural African communities over the next 36 months.
Delivering Power Where It’s Needed Most
NeuroTech, a Jordanian energy management company launched in 2018, has helped ensure a more equitable distribution of energy in refugee camps and reduce energy bills for aid agencies. This is accomplished by separating high-priority loads such as medical equipment and lighting from low-priority loads such as air conditioners and electric heaters.
“By splitting the load, beneficiaries are guaranteed first access to life-saving energy, which will be provided to lower-priority feeders based on availability. Load limits for energy feeders are defined based on intelligent algorithms, which makes the system smart enough to work while protecting people.” Restrictions need to be updated at the same time,” said Heba Asad, co-founder and CEO of NeuroTech.
As part of its pilot program, NeuroTech provided electricity to more than 1,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, relieving pressure on the camp’s hospital respiratory ward, which used to receive an influx of patients when it was powered only at certain times of the day. Patients can now receive treatment at any time.
“Our work with the refugee camps began in 2020 when we participated in the Jordan Energy Hackathon, which explored how households can be more energy efficient and reduce electricity consumption through innovative ways to monitor and manage electricity consumption,” she said. “When we asked the children about their biggest challenge from lack of electricity, they immediately shared their educational experiences. While they can sometimes study by moonlight, that doesn’t work in the winter. Now with our system, children can study at night without worrying about power outages.”
Entrepreneur Asad, 31, said the award will allow her company to help more people by funding the development of interactive applications that encourage refugees and local communities to become more energy efficient.
A powerful solution for everyone
Founded in 2011 by Andreas Spiess and Graft Architects, Germany-based Solarkiosk Solutions designs, manufactures and operates solar solutions for remote regions in Africa and Asia without access to electricity. Its E-hubb solar-powered kiosks are already used in shops, schools, hospitals, sports centres, cafes and offices.
CEO Thomas Rieger believes the technology has the potential to transform underserved rural off-grid communities and win over skeptics.
“It has been a challenge to convince donors and investors that it is possible to build such projects and achieve long-term self-sustainable growth. So we took on the responsibility of implementing and operating hundreds of projects. We launched Rural An economy in off-grid communities that breaks the poverty trap in neglected, underserved and underdeveloped areas.”
To date, the firm has designed and implemented approximately 300 rural projects in 15 countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, including refugee camps in Bangladesh, Jordan and Ethiopia. It has positively impacted the lives of millions and created thousands of jobs, most of them for women.
The company uses community-based production partners where possible, and also provides jobs with local manufacturers. Rieger added that winning the award will allow Solarkiosk to more effectively pilot their latest project, The Pulse.
Pulse aims to expand the use of innovative solar-powered kiosks to power industries as diverse as agricultural processing, water purification and electric vehicles.
“We hope to trial The Pulse in viable locations in Rwanda before expanding globally. If we can win this award, the impact on the community will be even greater as we can add thousands of beneficiaries and create new jobs. We I believe this is a game changer for rural development through solar powered electrification.”