RTC 2023 - Top 10 Announced!

Elsevier and ISES are happy to present the final Top 10 entries for the Renewable Transformation Challenge 2023 - please find the Top 10 in alphabetical order below!

All 10 entries show great potential with all projects working directly toward the Challenge's mission: achieving a world powered by renewable energy and accessible energy for all. Over the next weeks, the RTC judges will determine the final winning project which Elsevier and ISES are excited to announce soon.


DC Powered Indoor Induction Solar Cooker (Uganda): In Uganda, 88% of households use charcoal for cooking, 8% use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and 1% use electricity. These percentages point to social, economic and environmental challenges households face or cause which is what this project intends to address. The social aspect is that women and children who do the cooking using charcoal suffer complications of respiratory systems due to particulate matter and smoke from charcoal and firewood. The economic aspect is that the low percentages using LPG and electricity for cooking indicate that refilling LPG cylinders or prepaying electricity is very expensive. With no more trees to cut for charcoal production, a need to utilize the abundant sunshine arose. However, with previous solar cookers being outdoor concentrators, their wide spread adoption and use failed. This project thought of an indoor application that would use low voltage to cook. This project developed solar cookers and piloted them in households who are currently using them. So far it takes 18-20 minutes to boil a liter of water which is comparable to a conventional electric cooker from cold start. This cooker gives 5-6 hours of cooking with no sunshine. Making this solar cooker affordable as the next step of action will increase access through adoption and use, thereby setting women and children free from unhealthy cooking energy sources. This will also lead to an increase in household numbers using clean energy sources compared to the 8% and 1% for LPG and electricity respectively.


Decarbonization of post-harvesting operations (Ecuador): Improving the livelihoods of communities living in fragile ecosystems is among the main strategies to promote its conservation and preserve wildlife. In Ecuador, farmers’ cooperatives are recognized as an essential mechanism to improve the socio-economic conditions of local communities in the Amazon Forest, the Andean highlands, and coastal dry forests. In the last decades, the government has provided subsidized fossil fuels to guarantee the access of farmers´ cooperatives to reliable energy sources. Nevertheless, the government is reviewing and retiring these subsidies. Through field observations, this project identified that the small-scale agro-industrial facilities that belong to farmers´ cooperatives generate significant amounts of agro-residues that accumulate and decompose polluting the soil, internal aquifers, and air. Therefore, the team designed, constructed, and implemented six pilot-scale combustion reactors that use solid biofuels derived from agro-residues to replace subsidized diesel and, LPG currently used to supply the thermal energy required by the drying processes of coffee and cocoa. The project was implemented to promote the energy security and independence of subsidies of five collection and processing centers that belong to farmers' cooperatives located in the North Ecuadorian Amazon, namely: KALLARI, APROCEL, APROCCE, PRIMAVERA, and ASOMACHE. Thus, constituting a demonstrative model and proof of concept for scale-up and replication in other LATAM&Caribbean countries.


Empowering Women to Eradicate Energy Poverty (United States of America): Affordable, reliable, and efficient electricity increases productivity, generates jobs, and enhances living conditions and socioeconomic success.  Despite this, 774 million people globally lack access to energy with women and children disproportionately bearing the brunt of its negative impacts.Women and children are disproportionately impacted by energy poverty because women can spend up to 10 hours a week collecting fuel for energy use, often also leading to young girls being removed from school for firewood collection and preventing women from participating in other income-generating activities. Additionally, walking great distances for fuel leaves women vulnerable to physical attacks, and  cooking with these fuels, and inhaling the toxic smoke, endangers women's and children’s health. As primary household energy managers with powerful social networks, women are uniquely positioned to bring clean energy to millions of last-mile communities. Solar Sister trains and supports women to deliver clean-energy directly to homes in rural Africa, providing essential services and training that enable women entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses in their own communities, giving women the opportunity to earn an income while eradicating energy poverty.  To date, Solar Sister supported more than 9,400 women entrepreneurs who have gone on to mitigate more than 1.3M CO2e, impacting the lives of more than 4.2M beneficiaries.


OneLamp (Uganda): OneLamp is a solar asset finance company. The project provides digital energy financing for productive use of solar cooling systems to women-led offgrid small dairy farms that have no access to the national grid in Uganda. The credit gap for women-owned SMEs globally is estimated at $287 billion. Seventy percent of women owned SMEs cannot access the financing they need to grow a business. Ugandan women specifically, have unequal access to land and property titles because of matrimonial and inheritance laws, OneLamp is able to bridge this gap by providing the product as a service model allowing women led offgrid dairy farms to own their solar cooling systems after making after weekly or monthly mobile money payments over 2 years. Access to solar milk coolers, improves their efficiency, productivity and income-generating opportunities and directly contributes to gender inclusion and women’s empowerment. It also reduces food insecurity by providing rural households with better diversified nutrition from value-added products such as yoghurt, cultured milk, butter and ghee. The usage of solar technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions from inefficient, polluting fuels like kerosene used for lighting and diesel used to run generators. These improvements can play a major role in the livelihoods of approximately 2.5m smallholder dairy farming families in Uganda. The project aligned with the U.N. Global Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 specifically goals; 1, 2,5,7,8 and 13.


Powering up off grid settlements with solar power (United Kingdom/Bangladesh): The project seeks to invest in women and their families in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, addressing high levels of maternal and childhood malnutrition and to do this in part by ‘powering up’ Women’s Business Centres with solar power. Women play an essential role in the food system in the CHT yet have limited access and control over resources and decision-making power. The political, socio-cultural, economic, and geographical context of the CHT presents specific development challenges. The remote environment and historical conflict has led to limited utilities coverage. Through the LEAN program (Leadership to Ensure Adequate Nutrition), primarily funded by the EU and with elements supported by independent Trusts and Foundations, 164 WBCs have been created or strengthened; hubs where 5+ women entrepreneurs gather to trade their crops, buy and sell essential goods and link to wider markets. We have an excellent opportunity to provide renewable and accessible electricity to WBCs in the form of solar power, adding huge value to their enterprise. The prize of Eur 20,000 would provide solar arrays and associated installation and training to 9 x WBCs, enabling their investment in the cold value chain, light beyond sundown, IT access and the myriad benefits renewable energy brings to off-grid settlements. Solar energy will leapfrog older non-renewable technologies leading to 100% renewable energy from the get-go and provide a lasting, scalable investment into the CHT communities.


SafiSolar - Sustainable Clean Water access (Kenya): The SafiSolar project by INNO-NEAT Energy Solutions aims to provide safe drinking water to low-income off-grid communities in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa. It addresses the lack of access to clean water, which leads to waterborne illnesses and poor health outcomes. SafiSolar is a portable solar-powered water filter that removes contaminants and offers an affordable and sustainable solution for safe drinking water. The market opportunity is significant, with an estimated 2 million households in Kenya alone. The product is easy to use, requires minimal maintenance, and can produce up to 3000 liters of safe water per day. It has a competitive advantage over existing solutions and follows a PAYGO pricing model. SafiSolar has a positive impact on water access, health, and sustainability. The team is experienced and seeks funding of USD 25,000 for advanced pilot tests.


Solar-powered farming services for smallholders (India): Oorja has pioneered an inclusive business model to deliver critical farming services to smallholder farmers on a Pay-Per-Use basis, without any upfront cost. Managed by a diverse and international team, Oorja finances, installs, operates and maintains decentralised solar infrastructure at the farm and offers irrigation, milling and cooling services to help farmers transition away from fossil fuel. Target users are farmers with less than one acre of land and income less than $100 per month, and women farmers. Users pay based on the volume of irrigation water used or the quantity of grains processed or produce stored. Oorja’s farming services are up to 60% cheaper than alternatives. Our work also helps farmers increase crop yields, diversify crop production, reduce waste and double their income. In doing so, we have recorded that 67% of our existing customers have completely transitioned to solar-powered appliances. There is a 20% reduction in use of chemical inputs, and a decrease of 95% in fossil fuel consumption among our customers. Winning the RTC will help us scale up our solar-powered Pay-Per-Use farming services and further roll out the innovation among smallholders in India and other weak-grid rural areas in South and Southeast Asia and Africa.


Solapodz (United Kingdom): Solapodz are a range of wood based solar powered products; innovatively designed using repurposed lithium laptop batteries, to be manufactured and maintained in developing countries. Intended for people without access to electricity, they will provide lighting and USB device charging. Solapodz will generate a safe light from a renewable source, stimulate the local manufacturing and service industry, help in our fight against climate change by using renewable energy and reducing our dependence on plastics and kerosene. They will help to stimulate a circular economy where products can be maintained and recycled rather than discarded.Working prototypes have been developed and are now ready for market testing and design validation of a quantity of products in developing countries. Connections to countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are being created with the view to identify 2 or 3 interested parties/entrepreneurs who will then have 3 prototype products each for initial assessment. Once the entrepreneurs have identified and formalised a funding model, 100 pre-production products will then be made available to help kick start their businesses.


Sunstore Powerpan (United Kingdom): The SunstorePowerpanXLM is a solar/bio-char hybrid combined food processing and electricity generating appliance, designed to be the world's most cost effective and net zero carbon, feeding station. It uses a modular, inverted, PMMA Fresnel lens array, to concentrate up to 1.4kW of insolation onto a flat plate heat pipe with a  selective solar surface . This energy is delivered by latent transfer, into an insulated 30 liter cooking pot. Six solar cycles per day are possible (when used in tandem with a solar pre-heat insulated serving counter) processing 600 x 330gram standard UN food portions. The unit incorporates a bio-char fire-bed that allows it to operate during monsoon and at night, co-generating electricity using thermo-electric generators. The primary fuel supply strategy for the fire bed tray is to ‘pyroform’ local carbon based waste streams (sugar cane husks/sewage/crop stalks/invasive species) into smokeless bio-char. The unit can also track the sun using a water stack, in combination with an industrial spring priming mechanism. As the water head falls (the water is filtered and stored in an underground tank) it releases a tension wire that allows the counterbalanced lens array (linked to an elliptical track) to follow the sun for 8 hours, requiring little or no supervision by the users. The Sunstore mission is to, "feed the people and protect the environment".


100% Renewable Energy Justice in Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico/United States of America): After the hurricanes of 2017 (Irma and Maria), thousands of families – mostly in the rural mountains - were left without power for many months. They struggled to complete the regular tasks of cooking, bathing, and laundry. Grid outages continue to occur frequently. Barrio Eléctrico (BE) is a non-profit energy services provider with a long-term vision of transforming energy systems in parts of the world with unreliable and unaffordable electric service. Alison Mason and Lauren Rosenblatt co-founded BE and began operations in Puerto Rico in 2022, addressing the island’s energy, justice, and environmental challenges with a scalable model that reinvests in our members so that, in time, they determine the shape of a new, affordable, dependable electric system. Each household hosts a 5 kW, 10 kWh solar plus storage system, independent from, but backed up by, the public grid. The member pays a monthly customer service fee and a lower-than-utility rate price per kWh consumed. Our hybrid funding model leverages the assets and abilities of all stakeholders to lower the cost of clean and resilient energy for low- and middle-income households. We began operations in the municipality of Isabela and are expanding to other communities as we build our team and establish scalable processes. Rather than customers, our beneficiaries are engaged members in an organically developing energy system for which we provide the resources and backbone.


About the Challenge

Since 2017, the Renewable Transformation Challenge is awarded every two years to recognize accomplishments by organizations such as private enterprises, NGO’s, and research institutions for undertaking projects and programs that help move the world toward an energy system supplied entirely by renewable energy sources, or for conducting the critical analyses that provide meaningful roadmaps for the transformation. The award is one step towards furthering ISES’ vision of a world powered by 100% renewable energy, used efficiently and wisely, and accessible for all. This vision requires a global transformation of our energy systems to efficient and affordable renewable energy and can only be achieved through private and civil society initiatives towards innovative and successful programs that adopt the use of renewable energy technologies, and the intelligent application of energy efficiency measures. In the context of this Challenge, the energy transformation applies to all end-use energy consumption: power, heat, and transport.