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Team SoULS Wins $100,000 in IEEE’s Empower A Billion Lives Global Competition

International teams developing the world’s most innovative solutions to extreme energy poverty

Atlanta, GA

Story written by Jane Celusak, IEEE Power Electronics Society

Twenty-three teams from around the world competed in IEEE Power Electronics Empower a Billion Lives (EBL), a global competition that is crowd-sourcing the deployment of clean, sustainable, and innovative solutions to one of the biggest challenges facing us today – extreme energy poverty for 3 billion people, including 1.1 billion who live off-grid, often with income levels of less than $2 per day. 

Starting with over 450 teams from 70 countries, after five regional competitions in China, India, South Africa, Spain, and the United States, 23 teams came to Baltimore, Maryland to compete in the EBL global finals. The finals took place during the IEEE Energy Conversion Congress and Exposition, which was held September 28-October 1, 2019.

The $100,000 grand prize was won by Team SoULS from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, India. Other winning teams shared $115,000 in additional prizes, including Entrepreneurs du Monde and Okra from Cambodia, Solar Worx from Germany, Havenhill Synergy from Nigeria, and Reeddi from Canada/Nigeria as the winning student team. 

Additional prizes were won by X-Power from Rwanda, Simusolar from Tanzania, and Connex Solar from Scotland. Solutions proposed by the teams spanned areas of technology, social impact, business models, and scalability. 

The SoULS team empowered women as manufacturers and entrepreneurs in energy access, providing wealth creation within their communities, and helping millions of school children and hundreds of communities enjoy the benefits of clean solar lighting and energy. Other winners (Okra, Solar Worx, and Connex Solar) brought the sharing economy to energy access, demonstrating peer-to-peer ‘pay-go’ DC nanogrids. Other teams worked to perfect more traditional AC, DC, and hybrid minigrids (Havenhill and X-Power), to provide solar pumping for agriculture (Simusolar), and to create advanced energy ‘bricks’ for off-grid customers (Reeddi).

The winning teams presented their solutions at the IEEE Energy Access Workshop (EAW) in Baltimore, to attendees that included leaders from global institutions committed to furthering energy access, and to developing and deploying advanced technology in energy. IEEE EAW is a workshop dedicated to bringing together the Energy Access Community that is rising out of the efforts of initiatives like EBL. 

The EBL competition and EAW workshop were conceptualized and organized by the IEEE Power Electronics Society and its volunteers and staff, with strong support from regional volunteers and sponsors. For the EBL Global Final, sponsors included Kehua Technologies, On Semiconductor, Southern Company, Vicor, Sungrow Technology, Texas Instruments, and EBL partners - the Center for Distributed Energy (CDE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the IEEE Foundation. 

EBL Global Chair Deepak Divan said that “the teams have shown innovative, sustainable, and viable approaches to tackle energy access – showing how access to electricity can be liberating for families and communities, bringing about digital and financial inclusion, and improving their livelihood.” Divan is the director of CDE at Georgia Tech, holds the John E. Pippin Professorship in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. 

Further, IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) President Frede Blaabjerg stated that “many of these solutions are addressing critical humanitarian challenges that require an integrated approach to problem solving, including technology, business, and social impact. EBL teams have shown that this new brand of sustainable entrepreneurship can address systemic energy poverty.” Blaabjerg is a professor in the Department of Energy Technology at Aalborg University 

To see the solutions of all of the teams competing in the Global Final, please visit – www.empowerabillionlives.org/finalists

The next round of IEEE PELS Empower a Billion Lives will begin in 2021. To find out more about the overall competition, please visit www.empowerabillionlives.org. To support the efforts and lend your name to the growing Energy Access Community dedicated to Empowering a Billion Lives, please visit www.empowerabillionlives.org/supporters.

About IEEE

IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Through its highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities, IEEE is the trusted voice in a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers, and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power, and consumer electronics. Learn more at www.ieee.org.

About The IEEE Power Electronics Society

The IEEE Power Electronics Society has over 30 years of facilitating and guiding the development and innovation in the control of electrical power for a wide variety of consumer, commercial, industrial, utility, transportation, and renewable energy applications.

Photo captions

Top photo: Team winners are pictured with event sponsors at the Empower a Billion Lives competition.

Bottom photo: Pictured left to right are Malcolm Cosgrove-Davies, World Bank (retired); Jayendran Venkateswaran, a representative of the EBL grand prize winner, SoULS, and a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; and Deepak Divan, director of the Center for Distributed Energy at Georgia Tech.

Additional Photos

Grand prize award presentation to Team SouLS

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Last revised July 15, 2020