Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Zayed Future Energy Prize: meet the finalists changing the lives of millions worldwide

From a solar power suitcase to solar street lights, these nominees are saving lives and building better communities with sustainable energy

2017's winners of the Zayed Future Energy Prize in Abu Dhabi. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
2017's winners of the Zayed Future Energy Prize in Abu Dhabi. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

The Zayed Future Energy Prize finalists have made a huge difference in providing access to power for communities around the world.

The World Bank has said more than a billion people are without electricity and 1.2 billion more have no reliable access.

“I am very concerned about high rates of maternal mortality around the world,” said Dr Laura Stachel, co-founder and executive director of finalist We Care Solar. “In 2008, after working as an obstetrician for 14 years, I went to northern Nigeria to study why so many women died in pregnancy and child birth. At the time, 500,000 women around the world died from childbirth complications and 11 per cent of these deaths were in Nigeria, which is the same as two 747s filled with pregnant women crashing every day.”

Dr Stachel decided to conduct research in a state hospital for two weeks to find out what could help in lowering the rates of maternal death. “I saw that electricity was available for no more than 12 hours a day,” she said. “They couldn't use diagnostic equipment, didn’t have a way to store blood and there was no light for much of each evening. Electricity would go off during c-sections, procedures were postponed or cancelled."

The hospital had 150 deliveries a month and they lost between three and eight mothers a month.

Her husband, a solar educator, suggested designing a solar electric system for the hospital and it reduced maternal deaths by 70 per cent. “We developed a small solar power kit that I could carry in my suitcase on each of my trips to Nigeria and that’s how the solar suitcase started.”

Soon after, the initiative was picked up by the New York Times and requests started flooding in from around the world. Today, they are present in 2,800 health centres in more than 20 countries, including Sierra Leone and the Philippines.

For Anshul Patel, the 33-year-old vice president of business development at Bboxx, energy is very much a necessity and a fundamental part of any economy. Mr Patel, who was born in London and raised in Kenya before pursuing his studies in the UK, said, “Most developing market governments don’t have the resources to electrify their population and in any case, the traditional forms we’ve all been used to are very expensive in comparison to what we have to offer for exactly the same service.”


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Bboxx designs manufactures and supports hardware and software solutions needed for the off-grid energy market, predominantly in Africa. It also builds businesses there. Seven years ago, Mr Patel went back to Kenya to join the solar revolution. “We provide solar energy on a service model and customers make daily or weekly payments in exchange for a service from us, like lights or TVs,” he said. “It starts from US$6 on a monthly basis.”

Around 160,000 households have been impacted by their work. “We’re looking at leveraging our technology in water, cooking and metering applications within mini grids,” Mr Patel said.

Sunna Design’s solar street lights are another finalist – a project that has helped a number of people in Mali. “I did volunteer work for a very large electrification organisation in India in 2009,” said Thomas Samuel, the company’s chief executive. “It was a very big market at the time, but there were some technological barriers that led to technical failures in the field and in providing good quality long-lasting products.”

The company’s concept is an integrated solar street light manufactured in collaboration with governments, municipalities and industries who want access reliable and sustainable products suited to their environment. Seven more projects are planned next year, including one in the UAE.

“It took us €10 million and three years of research to be able to develop and industrialise what we consider today the best [solar street lights] in the world,” he said. “It is an honour to have come this far in the Zayed Future Energy Prize. We are proud and it is the confirmation that we are on the right track to positive global impact.”

Updated: January 14, 2018 07:18 PM