Stanford Energy is brought to you by the Precourt Institute for Energy
By Mark Golden
Three sustainability organizations have won the 2022 Global Energy Heroes prizes from Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy, announced on May 4 during Stanford’s Energy Solutions Week. The competitive prizes drew 44 submissions across five continents.
Organizations led by people aged 18 to 30 years old were eligible to enter, which required submission of a short video about their work. The winning organizations work in Kenya, Brasil and the United States. Mukuru Clean Stoves is figuring out how to get Nairobi’s low-income mothers to switch to improved cookstoves, a huge health problem that has bedeviled decades of international aid efforts. Revolusolar is making residential solar accessible to low-income households in sun-drenched Rio de Janeiro. And ElectricFish is enabling affordable, all-renewable electricity charging to electric vehicles while also making regional power grids less vulnerable to blackouts. Each organization gets $20,000 to advance their enterprise.
“The submissions we received were broad both geographically and topically,” said Yi Cui, director of the Precourt Institute and Stanford professor of materials science and engineering. “The three winners and the other finalists represent the breadth and depth of young people around the world committed to making their communities more sustainable and defending our world from climate change.”
“I hope their stories and the real benefits of their work inspire us all,” said Cui.
The winners were selected by a panel of four energy experts, listed below.
About 2.6 billion people around the world cook indoors with open stoves fueled by traditional biomass fuels – wood, animal dung, crop waste – or charcoal, without much ventilation. Almost 4 million people die prematurely annually from the resulting respiratory disease and accidental fires. The big challenge is convincing people to convert to safer cookstoves powered by electricity or cleaner fuels, like propane, or connected to chimneys that funnel smoke out of a home. Research has shown improved cookstoves need to be desirable, affordable, and require minimal change in lifestyle to be adopted.
Mukuru is the name one of the biggest slums in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, and it’s where Charlot Magayi was living and selling charcoal for a living as a young mother. In adult school, Magayi learned about the hazards of traditional cookstoves for which she was selling fuel. She went on to found Mukuru Clean Stoves.
The social enterprise produces efficient, reliable and affordable cook stoves from recycled waste metal for low-income households in Kenya, where 84 percent of the population cook with harmful cookstoves. Mukuru stoves reduce household smoke from cooking by 90 percent compared with open fires, and they use less fuel and cook more quickly, said Magayi. Mukuru stoves cost a fourth of what imported, commercial cookstoves cost, she added.
Mukuru distributes its stoves through women in communities throughout Nairobi. The stoves are partially subsidized by philanthropic organizations and carbon credits, but they still come at a cost to clients. The organization works with its distributors on finance. Mukuru says it has sold more than 100,000 of its cleaner stoves.
“We are putting the (Global Energy Heroes) prize money towards the construction of our new production facility,” said Magayi.
She hopes the prize will also enable Mukuru Clean Stoves to attract more investors and partners. “Nothing is more validating at this point in our journey,” Magayi said.
Sustainable, affordable and secure energy for all is the vision for the energy transition. Brazil has increasingly expensive electricity rates and relatively inexpensive solar energy technology, so this is already a vision at hand, especially in Rio de Janiero. Residential solar is a sustainable, decentralized electricity source and a generator of local jobs.
However, access to residential solar energy in Brazil requires initial capital or access to credit, as it often does in wealthy countries. As a result, low-income Brazilian communities can usually access only expensive and low-quality utility electricity service.
Revolusolar makes solar technology available to low-income communities through a rental model and professional training that generates quality local jobs for the low-carbon economy. Revolusolar’s research, events, and advocacy produce and publicize knowledge about residential solar power, and the non-profit represents the favela’s interests in the energy sector.
“So far, Revolusolar has been operating a pilot project in Rio de Janeiro. Our next step, starting in 2022, is to expand the solar revolution to new territories, nationally,” said chief executive Eduardo Avila. “The prize money will be entirely used to finance this national expansion, which includes a project in the Amazon region.”
The prize motivates Revolusolar to keep working on the solar revolution, aiming at a more inclusive and sustainable society, said Avila.
“We depend on donations and grants, and this visibility will help a great deal in finding and retaining partner institutions,” he added.
Developing capacity to economically store excess solar and wind power for later use is one of the most pressing priorities for making electricity systems more sustainable. The startup ElectricFish makes modular battery packs that can charge an electric vehicle enough to go 100 miles in just 10 minutes. These large battery packs, deployed at sites like gas stations and convenience stores, are charged with renewable power only.
In addition, a significant ElectricFish presence in a given area could improve the reliability of the local electric grid, the founders say. As reliance on intermittent solar and wind power grows, energy storage – both large, centralized capacity and local resources – is becoming increasingly critical to keeping power demand and supply in balance to avoid blackouts.
The company was founded by Folasade Ayoola, a PhD student in Stanford’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering and Anurag Kamal, MS '18 at Michigan Technological University. Kamal earned a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship from the Ignite program at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. The two founders were recognized by Forbes in its 2022 “30 Under 30 in Energy” list.
"ElectricFish plans to put this prize money towards the expansion of our Community Resilience Score algorithm that helps us choose the most impactful locations to build distributed storage,” said the company’s lead designer Ashleen Blaettler.
The startup’s algorithm predicts the most promising places to deliver their packs based on local grid architecture, EV penetration, community demographics, and the likelihood of power outages, Blaettler said.
"It is incredibly affirming for us at ElectricFish to have our work and the impact of our vision be recognized,” said Ayoola.
The judges of the competition were the Precourt Institute’s Cui; Will Tarpeh, Stanford assistant professor of chemical engineering; Jane Woodward, founder and managing partner of MAP Energy and a Stanford lecturer; and Pete Higgins, partner at Second Avenue Partners.
Global Energy Heroes was funded by sponsors of the Global Energy Forum, which will be held in November 2022.