WFES: Off Grid Electric and BYD big winners at Zayed Future Energy Prize awards

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The World Future Energy Summit began today in Abu Dhabi with a call for the world to turn the words of the COP21 Paris Agreement into tangible action – perfectly showcased by the shortlisted nominees for the $4 million Zayed Future Energy Prize.

In the first global gathering of leaders, organizations and clean energy companies since the historic Paris Agreement last December, UAE Minister of State Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber delivered a welcome address that talked of how the world is convening at a time of complex geopolitical circumstances, but also “unprecedented unity”. The Paris talks, he said, highlighted how “market forces are now closely aligned with political choices” when it comes to clean energy.

Al Jaber’s comments set the tone for Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to outline his government’s bold commitments to transforming Mexico’s energy landscape, before UN secretary-general Ban ki-moon once again took to the stage to urge the world to take those vital first post-Paris steps.

“Adoption of clean technology is vital for reducing emissions,” he said. “We have made a good start. The fall in solar prices in particular is bringing sustainable energy within reach of the world’s poorest people.”

Ki-moon stressed that “counterproductive” subsidies in renewable energy must come to an end sooner rather than later in order to usher in greater public-private collaboration.

Innovation leads the way

Innovation in financing and technology – particularly solar and storage technology – proved pivotal in the panel’s decision when selecting this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize winners.

In the large corporation category, China’s BYD was declared the winner thanks to its game-changing approach to stationary storage and e-mobility in particular – both of which support the company’s ambitions to establish multi-GW production capacities for its iron-phosphate battery technology.

The winner of the Small and Medium Enterprise category was the hot favorite, Off Grid Electric – a Tanzania-California initiative that provides affordable solar+storage units to customers in Tanzania and Rwanda via a pre-pay mobile payment model.

“The number one thing that keeps solar from being adopted more widely is that people are expected to pay for a lifetime of energy in one go,” Off Grid Electric CEO and co-founder Xavier Helgesen told pv magazine after the ceremony. “But if people in Tanzania and Rwanda can pay for their solar energy via their savings or income over a period of time, it becomes a very easy decision to go for solar.”

Helgesen explained how the pay-as-you-go model is attracting 10,000 new households a month, and said that by winning the Zayed Future Energy Prize Off Grid Electric will devote the prize fund towards growing its salesforce in Tanzania. Currently the company employs around 1,000 people in Tanzania and hopes to recruit even more graduates from local universities to work in sales and after sales – which are a key component of the Off Grid electric model.

Success for Kopernik

Indonesian NGO Kopernik scooped the non-profit award for its clean tech model for remote communities in Indonesia.

Targeting “last mile” customers, Kopernik’s 400-strong team of “Wonder Women” sell solar lights, solar home systems and water filters to cash-poor communities on a consignment basis, taking a small cut of each sale as their own income, explained Kopernik co-founder and COO Ewa Wojkowska to pv magazine.

“We focus on remote, rural communities in the ‘last mile’; people who are typically cash poor and have unpredictable income streams,” said Wojkowska. “So it was critical to be innovative in financing and technology.”

The COO said that the prize money will help Kopernik expand its portfolio of technologies to better meet the needs of these communities. This is likely to include some kind of affordable battery storage in the near future, Wojkowska confirmed.

Winners were also selected for various high school projects across five global regions: Oceana, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. A lifetime achievement award also went to former Norway Prime Minister Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland for her continued work on sustainability over the decades.

WFES began today and will continue through until Thursday, January 21. pv magazine will be reporting live and direct from the show all week.