PhD students make global final of energy poverty competition

A team of Strathclyde PhD students are through to the final round of a global competition to win part of $1 million funding to develop energy solutions to fight poverty.

Fraser Stewart, Bartosz Soltowski and Jonathan Bowes from the department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and the Centre for Energy Policy, won the Best Student Team at the ‘Empower a Billion Lives’ Europe and Africa regional final in Seville.

There are three billion people in the world living in energy poverty, and more than a billion people without any access to electricity.

The competition aims to develop solutions to address global energy poverty and is open to student groups, small and medium-sized companies, research labs, international corporations, and non-profit organizations. The Strathclyde team fought off competition from hundreds of applications across the globe to eventually compete against 15 regional finalists.

Field test

They have now won funding to test their innovative solution for widening energy access in developing countries in a village in Rwanda in July.

They impressed the judges with their energy solution to use a smart power controller that makes use of excess solar generation from already installed systems, to create local peer-to-peer energy networks in under the grid communities.

The system allows communities to take ownership of their electricity use and also offers new income generating opportunities.

It also increases the capacity for systems to power higher energy devices such as fridges, TV and maize mills by harnessing the latent capacity of installed systems.

Once the field trial is complete, the team will fly to Baltimore for the grand global final in late September, where they will present their results and compete with regional champions from Asia, Africa and the Americas for a share of the grand $1,000,000 prize to roll out their solution on a large scale.

Jonathan Bowes, 25, said: “It’s been a real team effort and we’re looking forward to the field tests in Rwanda.
“There’s a lot of work to do but hopefully we’ve got a good chance.

"There was a noticeable buzz about what we were doing in Seville.”

The EEE department’s Energy for Development research group at Strathclyde focuses on developing solutions that address the energy access issues facing the one billion of the world’s population currently living without access to electricity.

The group has carried out research in Malawi, Gambia and India that has improved energy access in remote rural communities.