Published on Digital Development

Negawatt in the making: Ghanaians host the first energy efficiency Challenge

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Challenge participants at the Negawatt Weekend kickoff on March 14.
Photo: Alison Roadburg
As a rapidly urbanizing capital, Accra, Ghana has been experiencing increased economic activity, coupled with rising migration. An increase in urban residents means an uptick in the demand for energy, both electricity and fuel.
The city has constrained human and financial resources to respond to this issue, as energy supply is struggling to keep up with ever-growing demand. Consequently, severe electricity shortages occur at the national level, resulting in frequent load shedding and energy price inflation, to the tune of 12 percent in the third quarter of 2014 alone.
Dumsor or load shedding has become part of the everyday life of local inhabitants; in fact, it is such a chronic issue that it has even made it into Wikipedia. Under the current timetable, residential customers have up to 24 hours of power outage for every 12 hours of power and are forced to use back-up power, kerosene lamps or be without power. At the same time, the Energy Commission of Ghana estimates that every year end-use electricity waste is around 30 percent of all of the electricity consumed, which in part, is due to the inefficiency of appliances and their overuse by the population. As is well known, inefficient use of energy contributes to higher levels of energy consumption than needed.
Although energy supply in the city is so often an issue, creative energies are bubbling in local information technology and innovation hubs, ready for a “spillover” into other sectors such as energy. Accra is home to a growing community of technologists and innovators, offering great and untapped potential for a new force to offer solutions, particularly, in the area of energy efficiency.
The combination of an energy supply crisis and the city’s commitment towards energy efficiency through a recent TRACE assessment led by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) as well as this talented information technology community made Accra a perfect candidate for the Negawatt Challenge, a new World Bank initiative aimed at identifying innovative software, hardware and business solutions to address energy efficiency, funded by the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund.
Challenge Definition Day: where critical energy efficiency challenges get refined
The Negawatt Challenge got off to a terrific start in Accra on March 2, with more than 40 energy and technology stakeholders participating. The first step was Challenge Definition Day, an event that launched the process to identify and define specific challenges pertaining to energy efficiency on a city level. The whole-day event was hosted by the iSpace Foundation, a co-working and technology hub and lead competition organizer in Ghana.
Experts at the Challenge Definition Day included representatives from government, utility companies, industry associations, the private sector, the donor community and academia. The themes explored were:
  • Demand-side management of energy;
  • Energy audits;
  • Building insulation;
  • Financing of energy efficiency projects;
  • Building energy data ecosystems; and
  • Efficiency of appliances.
A facilitating team from iSpace, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, or MEST, and National Instruments, or NI (a Global Terawatt Sponsor of the Negawatt Challenge in all participating cities) guided participants through the workshop process, including exploring existing and needed data related to the themes. Through a user journey-mapping technique, teams of participants created storyboards of specific stakeholders’ experiences that identified so-called “pain points,” which are real or perceived problems. This allowed for the development and refinement of more specific challenge statements. By the end of the day, each team presented at least one challenge statement, along with information on useful data, potential solutions and suggested next steps.
The result is a number of challenges including “ How might we provide tools that would allow consumers to monitor their energy use more efficiently?“ or “How might we enable more efficient use and monitoring of household appliances to save energy?” These challenges, if solved, have a high potential to impact energy efficiency in Accra by creating a significant amount of “negawatt” power, or energy saved.
Negawatt Weekend: where teams pitch in their solutions
These challenges formed the basis for the next step of the initiative, the Negawatt Weekend. The central event of this weekend was a two-day ideathon on March 14-15, hosted by iSpace and open to innovators, techies, entrepreneurs, makers, energy experts, and anyone interested in urban energy innovations. The event drew more than 70 participants and saw 14 teams putting their energy and talent to hard work to develop innovative ideas for products and services to improve energy efficiency in Accra, leveraging technology and looking at marketability.
The teams received support from expert facilitators and a pitch coach from MEST Ghana, as well as from eight mentors on user interface design, hardware hacking, business and finance, and approaches to community engagement representing various organizations. The Negawatt Weekend ended with the teams’ pitches to a panel of judges.
The winning teams and their ideas were:
  • Team Asor, which focused on offering data services to improve demand-side management through a hardware and software solution that allows consumers to estimate power needs of home appliances, as well as track (in real time) their electricity consumption status and that of their neighborhood
  • Team Flip, which explored enhancing the demand-side management of energy by introducing an energy-saving and time-controlled switch for street lighting and commercial lighting in buildings
  • Team Sun Shade, which came up with a way to strengthen building insulation by offering a photovoltaic upgrade to a conventional shading system, in which the shade would absorb sun energy and reuse it to power lighting and, in the future, other household appliances
  • Team WI, which focused on strengthening building insulation by offering a turbine-cooled housing unit that uses a process known as air exchange
The winning teams will receive intensive training and mentorship support in business and finance, user experience design, hardware, marketing and other technical- and theme-specific expertise through a three-week boot camp that would allow participants to pursue their ideas further. As a next step, two teams will be selected to go through the Negawatt Acceleration process over a three-month period, and then enter the global pitching contest with the other participating cities after the summer.
These teams from Ghana will not only have the chance to compete with their peers in the other cities, but they will also interact with city government decision-makers from other countries convened by the Negawatt Challenge, thus getting an opportunity to showcase their early prototypes.
The solutions surfaced by the Negawatt Challenge will unlikely resolve Accra’s ongoing energy supply issues on its own. However by leveraging entrepreneurial talent to find innovative tools and technologies, as well as build capacity within the city to support entrepreneurship and innovation through a platform where policy makers and startups can collaborate, this activity will be complimentary to existing initiatives.


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