Negawatt Challenge tackles urban energy efficiency


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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.
The Negawatt Challenge seeks to solve some of these problems by tapping into a city’s most valuable resource — the people who live there. Urban residents have the intellectual capital that will enable the city in which they live to tackle its challenges head-on.
Negawatt will catalyze urban residents to begin creating the solutions —hardware, software, business models — that will increase urban energy efficiency in an open and transparent way, and then invest further in developing and polishing the best solutions.
Why these cities?
Negawatt is unfolding in four cities around the world — Accra, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and Rio de Janeiro. We picked these cities because of their local governments’ commitment to resource efficiency and green growth, as well as their dynamic and growing entrepreneurial, ICT and technology sectors, which we learned about through conversations with residents, policy makers and technical experts from these cities.
Three of these cities – Nairobi, Accra and Rio de Janeiro – have conducted an initial assessment of energy efficiency potential with the Tool for Rapid Assessment of City Energy (TRACE).
Through the TRACE assessment and WB teams’ conversations with urban residents and global innovation experts, we believe we have identified cities with both pressing problems and the resources to tackle them directly.
How you can help
Want to help? We are looking for collaboration and support. We will expand on this as our needs and ideas develop but for the moment you can:
  • Follow us on Twitter using the #negawatt hashtag.
  • Compete. Live in one of these cities? Put a team together and come to Negawatt Weekend or submit your pitch through MIT CoLab (a separate announcement will follow).
  • Spectate. You can also just come and watch.
  • Teach. Know something of value to the competing teams? Teach a short class on entrepreneurship of energy efficiency.
  • Sponsor us. We’re looking for additional support, both in-kind and financial.
If you’re interested in teaching or sponsoring, please contact us directly and visit our website. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Join the Conversation

Jana Elhorr
February 05, 2015

Great initiative! Hopefully other cities will join soon

February 17, 2015

Very good initiative,I live in Nairobi city and power black outs for days are real. hope the negawatt challenge comes with feasible solutions to address energy problems.

Femi Kolade
February 02, 2015

This looks like a great initiative! Was Lagos, Nigeria considered as an option for one of the cities? Given the size of the economy and the populace and its endemic problems with energy generation it would seem at least in terms of need as an obvious choice.

March 03, 2015

Hi Femi,
Thank you for your comment. We agree, Lagos would be a very interesting city to include in the Negawatt Challenge. The first round of cities were selected on the basis of having completed a TRACE assessment (urban energy efficiency assessment) or in the case of Dar, currently implementing a water innovation project. For second round of cities we welcome municipalities to express interest in joining.

Dormenyo Galley
April 23, 2015

It seems that the prizes to be won for the Negawatt challenge have not been categorically stated,this issue arises as most of the winning teams from the first stage in Ghana especially don't have access to hardware to build a working prototype, we will be grateful if a well defined prize list will be outlined so we can be more clear going forward.