Today, winners of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge were announced at a virtual grand final event. Now in its third year, the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge invites teams of university students from around the world to design sustainable, and high-performing appliances intended for communities with no or unreliable access to electrical grids. 

Globally, 759 million people live without access to electricity and many more have an unreliable connection. This means that they are unable to access appliances that can help them earn a living or enjoy a good quality of life. The development of affordable and efficient appliances can help the world achieve universal clean energy access by 2030. 

The Challenge empowers teams of university students to accelerate clean energy access for low to middle-income countries through the development of innovative appliances and to address barriers that limit market expansion in this area. Challenge had participants from over 150 students from 22 universities in Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sweden, Uganda, the UK, the USA, and Zimbabwe.

The winning teams designed appliances to tackle healthcare, food security and cooling challenges in rural communities around the world. The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge team provided support, and training to equip students with the relevant skills to create their projects and pursue careers in energy access. Teams were also paired with industry experts who offered structured guidance and insight into the high-performing appliances sector. Five teams, consisting of students from three African countries made it to the list of winners (bronze category). 

The overall winning Team (Gold) from City, University of London (UK) and Independent University (Bangladesh), with the solar direct-drive cold storage system for off-grid preservation of fish and perishable goods. The runners-up (Silver) are from the University College London (UK), and the National University of Sciences and Technology, NUST (Pakistan). The teams won with their space cooling air filtration system with a grass-based filter, and solar-based dehydrating system for food preservation respectively. 


Solar Baby Incubator  (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya) – The incubator aims to reduce the infant mortality rate in Kenya. The incubator will use a parabolic trough reflector to heat water, which will be used to provide warmth to babies, at a lower price point compared to other electric incubators currently on the market.

Solar-Powered Mobile Blood Bank (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya) – The project proposes a mobile blood bank design that transports blood from major blood banks to remote hospitals while maintaining the integrity and quality of the blood. 

Solar-Powered IoT Hydroponic System (Makerere University, Uganda) – The design enables the user to monitor and control the system remotely, use off-grid renewable energy, and lowers operating and start-up costs. It uses low voltage DC-powered submersible pumps that circulate water and a low voltage DC-powered microcontroller for control and data acquisition.

Semi-Automated Water Vending Machine (University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria)– The project aims to provide African communities with a safe, clean, potable water supply. This design seeks to increase the efficiency of energy spent in pumping water and build a business model around water vending.

Solar-Powered Milk Cooling Unit (Makerere University (Uganda) and Swansea University (UK) – The milk cooling unit aims to address the challenges faced by dairy farmers in Uganda by maintaining milk quality during the post-production and transport phase of the value chain. It uses solar energy to power a solid-state cooling solution (thermo-electric devices) and requires little to no maintenance. 

Speaking about the challenge, Lord Goldsmith, the Minister for the Pacific and the International Environment said “This year’s winners and participants in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge have come up with some inspiring and creative solutions, and I’m pleased that the UK government funding continues to support the initiative. The ideas on show in this competition will not only help to improve energy access globally but also tackle the climate crisis.”

Jeffrey Prins, head of Portfolio (Renewable Energy), IKEA Foundation stated that “Helping families afford a better life while protecting the planet takes innovative minds and technologies. Productive use of renewable energy is central to addressing many challenges we face today, as it fights climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time lifts people out of poverty. We’re delighted to see young people stepping up to help us accelerate on SDG7. Each student who has participated in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge this year has not only demonstrated their commitment to reducing carbon emissions — ensuring future generations will still have a place to call home — but that will also make an immediate and tangible difference in our daily lives. We’re delighted to support the continued growth of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge,” he explained. 

John Kraus, the chief executive, of Engineers Without Borders UK, said, “The twin threats of overshooting our planetary boundaries, while under-serving so many are complex, interconnected and urgent. We must respond innovatively through collaboration and responsible design. The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge does exactly this. It provides students with a holistic understanding of the need to enhance the efficiency and affordability of high-performing appliances for all. As we conclude year three of this Challenge, I look forward to seeing the inspiration it sparks in the graduates of tomorrow and industry leaders of today.”

Finally, Mike Thornton, chief executive, of Energy Saving Trust said, “It is great to see young people from around the world taking an active role in addressing the climate emergency and working to create a just and inclusive clean energy transition. Congratulations to all the students for their outstanding and innovative projects. Competitions such as the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge inspire the next generation to achieve net-zero and build a pipeline of talent to accelerate progress in this vital task.”

Today’s Grand Final event showcased participating teams’ innovations to an audience of students, representatives from aid agencies and foundations, private sector representatives, academics, and the broader civil society.

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