IEEE’s Empower A Billion Lives Competition Tackles Global Energy Poverty

September 27, 2019 by Paul Shepard

Twenty-three teams from around the world are converging on Baltimore on September 28 & 29 to compete in the finals of IEEE Empower a Billion Lives (EBL), a global competition that is crowd-sourcing innovative solutions to one of the biggest challenges facing us today – extreme energy poverty for 3 billion people, including 1.1 billion who live off-grid, often with income levels of less than $2 per day.

Starting with over 450 registered teams from 70 countries, 82 teams were selected to compete in one of five regional rounds held in Pacific Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. A total of 23 teams won the regionals and progressed to field-testing their solutions, and to competing in the Global Final.

EBL teams have developed, tested and are taking to market innovative, high-impact solutions to eliminate energy poverty and improve livelihood for impacted families and communities – addressing key technology, social impact and business model problems, and de-risking the solutions to accelerate time to reach scale. Winning teams will receive over $200,000 in prizes, including a $100,000 grand prize, bringing the total awards that the teams will receive to over $500,000.

The competition was conceptualized by the IEEE Power Electronics Society and its global volunteer base and staff, with strong support from many regional and global sponsors. Sponsors for the global final include Kehua Technologies, On Semiconductors, Southern Company, Vicor, Sungrow Power Supply Company, and Texas Instruments. EBL partners include ESMAP, the Center for Distributed Energy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the IEEE Foundation.

EBL Global Chair Dr. Deepak Divan said that “getting 3 billion people to OECD levels of energy use with existing grid-extension strategies seems very expensive and could be catastrophic in terms of carbon emissions – new approaches that offer lower-cost and higher-value are clearly needed to help those living in energy poverty leapfrog current solutions. EBL seeks to unlock global innovation to achieve this goal.”

IEEE Power Electronics Society President – Dr. Frede Blaabjerg, reiterated that “for these solutions to be viable even for the poorest customers, fast-moving new technologies such solar PV, batteries, microgrids, power electronics, cloud-computing, smart phones and mobile-money are needed. The EBL format encourages teams to think holistically, simultaneously addressing issues of technology, social impact and business model to accelerate adoption and scaling.”

The results of the EBL Global Final will be announced on October 1 at a special Energy Access Workshop to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center.