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Awards for Change: How prizes can help us achieve energy goals

Daniel Kammen's picture

What will it take to foster and spread the ideas and practices needed for sustainable development? One thing that has stirred innovative thinking are the positive results of recent prize competitions. 

Perhaps the most notable of these – so far – has been the Ansari X Prize. The Ansari X Prize was a space competition in which the X Prize Foundation offered a US$10 million reward for the first non-government organization to launch the same reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was modeled after early 20th-century aviation prizes, and aimed to spur development of low-cost spaceflight. There is real brilliance in this idea, but in the specific terms of the prize, which prompted other competitors – each of whom spent far more than the prize money. The prize, claimed by Scaled Composites in 2004 for its Tier One project launched or accelerated a diverse portfolio of private space ventures, “spaceports”, and an industry now worth billions.

Since 2004, prizes have been launched. One, technology-focused competitions is the i6 Green Challenge by the US government which will reward $1 million to each of six teams around the country with the most innovative ideas to drive technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in support of a green innovation economy, increased U.S. competitiveness and new jobs. There are others with concrete objectives to addressing key issues in ecological conservation, social networking, transparent national governance, and democratic transitions of power (for example, the Mo Ibrahim prize).

Can this idea work in energy, climate, and development?