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Negawatt Challenge tackles urban energy efficiency

Anna Lerner's picture
The challenge gets underway at Nairobi's
iHub. Photo: Anna Lerner/World Bank
The Negawatt Challenge is is an open-innovation competition that will leverage a variety of cities’ rich ecosystems of innovative entrepreneurs and technology hubs to surface software, hardware and new business solutions. Together, these components – and the innovators themselves – are capable of transforming these cities into more sustainable places.
 
Nairobi (Kenya), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Accra (Ghana), and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) are participating in this year’s competition.
 
Cities are the engines of growth
People congregate in cities to share ideas, create businesses and build better lives. Urban centers have always been the hearts of economies, driving growth and creating jobs. But cities also strain under the burden, their transport and utility arteries often overloaded with the pressure of supporting rapid urbanization and development. While only around 30 percent of Kenyans have access to electricity, around 60 percent of all electricity is consumed in the country’s capital, Nairobi.
 
As a result, access to energy can be both costly and unreliable. In many fast-growing cities, the demand for energy outstrips both total supply and the capacity of the grid to deliver that energy to businesses and households. Blackouts are a typical result and they are costly and dangerous. Energy generation is also often very inefficient. As such, energy efficiency holds a big opportunity for reducing wasted energy resources, freeing up financial resources for private and public actors, and reducing the carbon footprints of the mentioned cities.

Can urban innovation ecosystems be developed with little broadband infrastructure?

Victor Mulas's picture
We are witnesses to the surge of tech startup ecosystems in cities around the world, in both developed and developing countries.

In my previous blog post, I showed this trend and the studies that confirm it. Among the questions we are researching to map urban innovation ecosystems is whether there is a minimum set of requirements for these ecosystems to emerge — for example, in relation to infrastructure or the population's technical skills. What we are encountering is that, although you need a minimum level of infrastructure (e.g., at least some broadband connectivity and mobile phone networks), this level is much lower than many people expect. 

A city does not need to have 4G mobile broadband or widespread fiber-optic fixed broadband widespread. It is enough to have broadband connection in some key points (particularly hubs and collaboration spaces) and basic mobile phone coverage and use (such as 2G mobile phone service). A similar conclusion is applicable to the skill level of the population. The results of the study of New York tech ecosystem shows that almost half of the employment created by the ecosystem does not require a bachelor’s degree.

In this blog post, I present the case of Nairobi and the tech start-up ecosystems emerging in Africa. I'll also explore how these ecosystems can not only surge, but also compete internationally despite having limited broadband connectivity (both mobile and fixed). 
 
Map of Accelerators and Collaboration Spaces in Nairobi. Source: Manske, Julia. 2014. Innovations Out of Africa. The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem.