Technology solutions have to be created with the user in mind – especially those that aim to address energy efficiency, given the importance of behavior change in altering consumption patterns. This was one of the driving principles behind a recent competition in Nairobi, Kenya.
For a weekend, as part of the Negawatt Challenge, over 80 participants in Nairobi brainstormed to design creative solutions to the city’s energy challenges. The Negawatt Challenge is an international competition methodology pioneered by the World Bank. The objective is to inspire cities across the globe to innovate around urban energy efficiency challenges.
Nairobi joined the first phase of the initiative along with Accra (Ghana), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
“All of these cities are rapidly urbanizing and growing capitals where increasing demand for energy is putting additional pressure on public service delivery and reliable access to electricity. Local governments are looking at mainstreaming green growth through energy efficiency as an opportunity,” explained Anna Lerner, a World Bank ICT Innovation and Energy Specialist and co-Task Team Leader of the Negawatt Challenge. “Furthermore, all of these cities have vibrant technology hubs that are home to incredible local talent as evidenced by a number of tech inventions. We want to channel this creativity towards innovation at the intersection of energy and ICT.”
In Nairobi, the World Bank has partnered with @iBizAfrica-Strathmore University and iHub, two Nairobi-based technology hubs that have nurtured local IT talent.
“Don’t create a solution that has no problem,” said Robert Yawe, founder of Quadrantshift Africa, to an audience of engineers, coders and entrepreneurs at the opening of the Nairobi Negawatt Weekend on March 21. The 14 teams who participated in the event have taken this suggestion to heart: while only four made it to the final stage at the close of the weekend, everyone pitched in to help offer solutions for Nairobi’s current and future energy problems.
Spearheaded by the World Bank, the consortium of partners delivered two events in order to lay the groundwork for the Negawatt Weekend. The first event was an informal energy-focused meetup delivered in partnership with IBM Research Africa. The meetup was attended by over 120 participants. Its objective was to introduce the local community to the range of technological options on the market that could be relevant to the energy sector.
The second event was a collaborative workshop called Challenge Definition Day. The workshop served as a convener for thought leaders in the energy sector from the municipal government, academia, and both the public and private sectors. The objective of the Challenge Definition Day was to build consensus and ownership around the city’s energy challenges. Through a set of facilitated exercises, participants co-created specific challenge statements that then served as the basis of the competition held over Negawatt Weekend.
As a result, 14 challenge statements were identified under the themes of:
- Energy audits and target recommendations for energy saving;
- Demand reduction through behavioral change; and
- Lack of reliable electricity and frequent power outages.
These challenges were then revisited during a second meetup sponsored by National Instruments (NI). The meetup involved a demonstration (by NI and Gearbox) on how to utilize hardware and software technologies to solve relevant urban energy efficiency challenges.
The Negawatt methodology is built upon the notions that the best solutions to existing challenges are the outcomes of informed problem solving and require input from all relevant stakeholders. Solutions are more effective and long lasting if they: leverage access to information and data; foster knowledge sharing and participation among all key stakeholders; provide skills and knowledge building, training, and education; and leverage technology as an enabler. Challenge competitions as a catalyst are an effective way of leveraging local and global talent to work collaboratively toward a shared vision.
The Negawatt Weekend operationalized the statements devised during Challenge Definition Day. On Saturday, participants were introduced to the challenges and the energy efficiency themes, followed by an all-night “hackathon” to beat the Sunday afternoon deadline, when they were required to start presenting their ideas and early prototypes to a panel of eight expert judges.
Over the course of the weekend, participants were guided by expert mentors who advised and coached them on business modeling and technical prototype development, ensuring that the solutions which were surfaced had a unique value proposition, are technically feasible and practically implementable.
The winning teams that advanced to next stage of the competition include Plugin, WattSaver, Angaza and Wezesha Huduma. Here are their ideas:
- Plugin: Improve energy consumption patterns by collecting data on user’s electricity consumption, which is then relayed to a mobile app that analyzes usage patterns. Problem statement: Lack of personalized energy audit to guide users on tailored energy savings.
- Angaza (Kiswahili for “illuminate”): Provide a hardware solution that allows usage of solar energy in small bits by many users, instead of provision of a bulk and costly solution to a single user. The device also manages and monitors users’ energy consumption. Problem statement: Existing solar systems are expensive for low-income urban dwellers.
- Watt Saver: Reduce power consumption by eliminating standby energy losses in fully charged plugged-in gadgets that are not in use at a particular time. These gadgets include phones, cameras, laptops, power banks, Bluetooth devices, and tablets. Problem statement: Energy inefficiencies leading to loss of power through standby energy appliances resulting to high power losses.
- Wezesha Huduma (Swahili for “enabling service”): Provide biogas and solar energy to slum dwellers at reduced cost by incorporating affordable and efficient technologies that facilitate production, management and distribution of biogas and solar energy. Problem statement: Lack of affordable alternative sources of energy.