India-based Mera Gao Micro Grid Power (MGP) and Tanzania-based EGG-energy (EGG) are the winners of National Geographic’s first Terra Watt Prize, a competition aimed at developing innovative solutions that address on energy poverty. National Geographic launched the Terra Watt Prize to support entrepreneurs and investors in the quest to bring basic access to electricity to people worldwide. MGP and EGG will each receive grants of $125,000 to implement their proposed projects to provide energy solutions to off-grid communities.
“We applaud the Terra Watt Prize winners, who stepped up to the challenge of finding safe, affordable, clean-energy solutions for people who do not have access to electrical grids,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s chief science and exploration officer. “National Geographic is committed to solutions-based thinking and surfacing fresh approaches to the challenges facing our planet. We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this competition.”
Roughly 1.3 billion people — one in five globally — lack access to electricity. This energy poverty stifles advances in education, health care and economic development. Without access to reliable energy, people’s standards of living decline rapidly. Families struggle to find clean methods for heating, cooking and lighting their homes. Discovering modern, sustainable energy solutions is essential to improving living standards in the developing world.
MGP builds, owns and operates low-cost, solar-powered microgrids that provide poor, off-grid communities with quality indoor lighting and phone-charging services. These remote areas are often only accessible by paths or dirt roads, where kerosene and homemade wick lanterns are the most common sources for light.
MGP’s proposed project aims to provide electricity through microgrid technology to approximately 17,500 people in Laharpur block of Sitapur District, Uttar Pradesh, India. MGP will expand services to new communities, providing lighting to households. As a result of these new connections, children will be able to study at night, adults will be able to engage in income-generating activities and indoor air will be cleaner.
EGG’s proposed project will provide sustainable energy services in the outskirts of Pangani in the Tanga region of Tanzania. Grid electricity is currently used by just over 8 percent of the population in this rural region. Pollution-causing kerosene lamps are the most common forms of light. Over the next three years, EGG plans to install 500 mobile-connected, rent-to-own solar systems. After contributing an established number of small monthly payment installments, customers will claim ownership of these systems.
The Terra Watt Prize is the inaugural competition of the National Geographic New Pacific Prize Program, a global incentive-based prize program that was launched last year to mark National Geographic’s 125th anniversary. This effort allows National Geographic to expand its long-standing support of field science and exploration. The effort was made possible by funding from Los Angeles-based entrepreneur David Margulies. Subsequent competitions may focus on other challenges.
“This unique prize concept will allow us to surface more solutions to the pressing challenges facing our planet,” said Margulies. “Through this process, we are able to better leverage investment in science and exploration.”
Ideas for potential prize competitions were solicited from National Geographic explorers, scientists and other stakeholders. Given the critical need to ensure universal access to sustainable energy and the challenges facing energy entrepreneurship, including access to capital and the ability to showcase sustainable business models, the Terra Watt Prize concept was selected as National Geographic’s first competition.
A minimum requirement from each applicant team was to provide basic electricity to 50 households, defined as enough power to illuminate three light bulbs and the ability to charge one cell phone. Proposals were evaluated on four criteria: feasibility, impact, scalability and sustainability. Candidates from 24 countries submitted a total of 54 applications. Applicants presented a variety of energy-access technologies to best suit local conditions.
The Terra Watt Prize was designed not to favor one technology over another, which allowed entrepreneurs flexibility to select the most suitable technology given local conditions and other factors. The prize was structured to be an open, transparent and value-added experience for all applicants and was designed specifically to address the challenges of energy entrepreneurship. Independent investors and credible authorities with real-world expertise in energy access were selected as judges. Once winners were selected, judges received access to all of the applications in an effort to spur potential investment opportunities. Throughout the process, applicants were able to communicate with each other in dedicated forums and through private messaging, which helped facilitate collaboration and stimulate competition.
About the National Geographic Society
Founded in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. With a mission to inspire people to care about the planet, the member-supported Society offers a community for members to get closer to explorers, connect with other members and help make a difference. The Society reaches more than 500 million people worldwide each month through its media platforms, products and events. National Geographic has funded more than 11,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit www.nationalgeographic.com.