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Solar-powered technology to level the playing field for women and girls in world’s poorest countries

The Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund has awarded 20 organisations a total of £2.9 million in funding for innovative, solar-powered appliance technology projects that will help to level the playing field whilst addressing the climate emergency.

Women and girls and other disadvantaged groups in developing countries will have better access to clean energy, thanks to new funding from UK aid and the IKEA Foundation.

Today, the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund has awarded 20 organisations, including several from the UK, a total of £2.9 million of funding for innovative, solar-powered appliance technology projects that will help to level the playing field whilst addressing the climate emergency. The Modern Energy Cooking Services programme is funding six clean cooking projects, as part of this call for proposals.

The winning projects include Neopenda’s project, ‘A wireless vital signs monitor for new-born babies’, which will pilot an affordable and wireless vital signs technology in low-resource health facilities in East Africa. The company’s neoGuard technology allows clinical staff to monitor up to 20 patients at a time. In this project, neoGuard will be introduced to six to eight health facilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Jirogasy’s project ‘Jirodesk V2: Solar-powered computers to enable digitalisation in the off-grid market’ seeks to make e-learning more accessible in Madagascar. The project will develop an energy efficient, all in one, solar powered PC, which can be assembled locally. Once the pilot project is complete, the company aims to provide computer access to over 10,000 students in Madagascar every year.

Simusolar’s project ‘Developing an inclusive, gender-customised Pay As You Go (PAYGO) model for productive uses of energy’ will help female smallholder farmers in off-grid, off-network areas to use solar water pumps and other appliances. Simusolar and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) will develop an innovative data syncing method called 'PAYG Bridge' that broadens the coverage of Simusolar's PAYG platform.

International Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith said:

“As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to build back better and create a greener and more inclusive global economy. That’s why we’re funding innovative solutions for clean energy to protect our environment, while helping to level the playing field for women, disabled people and other disadvantaged groups in some of the world’s poorest countries.

“UK aid has already given 26 million people improved access to clean energy and we will continue to drive global change, including as hosts of COP26 next year.”

In the past year, the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund has supported 21 organisations with over £2.5 million and facilitated a further £750,000 to six electric cooking projects with funding from UK aid. The Research and Development Fund aims to accelerate the availability, affordability, efficiency and performance of a range of appliances that are particularly suited to developing country contexts and promote social inclusion.

Jeffrey Prins, Head of Portfolio – Renewable Energy, IKEA Foundation, said:

“The IKEA Foundation is proud to support these innovative projects through the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund’s third funding call. We want to inspire and influence the renewable energy sector to embrace productive use of renewable energy in all aspects of human development work, which will make our societies more inclusive and greener. These awardees will do just that.”

Mike Thornton, Chief Executive, Energy Saving Trust, said:

“The Research and Development Fund is a vital part of the Efficiency for Access Coalition and we are very pleased to be delivering it in collaboration with our partners, CLASP. With an emphasis on inclusivity and enhancing the compatibility of devices, the awardees will play an important role in driving growth and clean energy innovation in the off-grid appliances market.”

Adili Solar Hubs (Kenya) - Solar powered ice flake machine

Adili will develop an integrated system comprising a solar-powered ice machine with a water purification unit. By producing ice with clean water at the shore, Adili Solar Hubs aims to bring cold chain management services to local areas, so that fishermen can do so for an extended time. This will keep the harvested fish fresh for longer, increasing its economic value.

Angaza (USA) - A protocol for secure communication between any off-grid appliances

Angaza will develop software that allows off-grid appliances to securely communicate between themselves and cloud services. It will enable consumers to connect off-grid appliances made by different manufacturers and access cloud services of their choice. The company will release this as an open-source product, available for new off-grid appliances in development.

BioLite Kenya (Kenya) - Developing a Hybrid AC/DC Electric Pressure Cooker with residential and productive use applications

BioLite proposes to develop, field test, manufacture, and distribute a hybrid AC/DC electric pressure cooker, which is tailored for cooking the most popular dishes in East Africa. It will feature safe, efficient, and user-friendly technology.

Burn Manufacturing Co (USA) - Piloting innovative energy monitoring unit attachments in Tanzania

This project will pilot innovative energy monitoring unit (EMU) EPC attachments in Tanzania. The EMUs will enable users to understand their own energy usage easily and allow BURN to collect data on consumption patterns.

Green Empowerment (USA) - Open-source solutions for smarter load management

Off-grid environments present many challenges to electricity providers, which include ensuring power systems are affordable for consumers and can meet their energy demands. In response, Green Empowerment and partners in Southeast Asia will develop an open-source, mini-grid management and optimisation tool. This will be made accessible to a network of developers working to benefit marginalised, indigenous communities.

Jirogasy (Madagascar) - Solar powered computer made in Africa for the off-grid market

Jirogasy’s project will leverage its local manufacturing capabilities to develop a solar powered computer that combines solar home system and computer features. A prototype will be deployed in schools for a pilot project. Once the pilot is complete, Jirogasy aims to provide computer access to over 10,000 students per year in Madagascar.

Kachione LLC (Malawi) - Efficient empowerment: How “Earn & Grow” creates solar electric cooking access for African women

This project applies advanced energy efficiency concepts to off-grid cooking. It will create a new model to empower women living in rural subsistence economies through the acquisition of efficient solar electric cooking. The project will achieve this through pilot testing and evaluation of small collective, solar electric kitchens using an Earn & Grow business model and Africa-made, battery-free solar home systems with efficient insulated solar electric cookers.

Nadji.BiSénégal (Senegal) - A connected solar platform with software to ensure a sustainable business model for millet flour production

Nadji.Bi Sénégal’s project will develop a solar solution to produce millet flour, which will be connected and managed by a smart software applications platform. This will enable a pain-free and pollution-free flour processing solution, which can help improve quality of life for women and girls. It will also help families generate more income, as larger amounts of grain will be processed.

Neopenda(USA) - A wireless vital signs monitor for newborn babies

Neopenda’s project aims to introduce an affordable and wireless vital signs technology called neoGuard to low-resource health facilities in East Africa. It will continuously monitor the temperature, pulse rate, oxygen saturation and respiration rate of critically ill newborns.

Okra Solar (Australia) - Efficient AC cooker use and adoption validation for DC mesh networks

This project aims to help women in countries with no or weak grid to access improved electricity-based cooking. The goal is for high efficiency EPC, rice cooker and vacuum thermos to be identified, procured and deployed for use in Okra mesh networks in Cambodia. The technology will be designed and tested in Okra solar mesh-grids while using off the shelf AC inverters.

Omnivoltaic Energy Solutions Company Limited (Hong Kong) - Device data discovery as a service

Omnivoltaic Energy Solutions’ project will develop hardware that records and sends important data from off-grid energy access technologies and appliances. This will provide a more general framework to collect and record data.

OVO Solar Technologies Inc. (Canada) - Developing a modular solar powered egg incubator for smallholder farmers

OVO Solar Technologies’ project will develop a modular Pay As You Go enabled, solar powered egg incubator. This will allow farmers to scale their hatchery production as they grow their poultry businesses.

PEG Africa (Mauritius) - Innovative solar-refrigeration solutions for West Africa

The project aims to develop affordable solar refrigeration solutions for women working in commercial settings in Senegal and the Ivory Coast, which will help increase their income. This includes women who are fishers and traders, as they sell perishable goods without access to reliable and affordable refrigeration.

PowerGen Renewable Energy Limited (Kenya) - Empowering women living in rural areas of Tanzania through mini-grids and ultra-efficient chicken egg incubation

PowerGen's project will pilot a locally sourced and produced egg incubator from Tanzania for PowerGen mini-grid customers. It will target female poultry farmers and measure the social and economic impacts of egg incubators as mini-grid compatible productive use appliances.

Powerhive Inc UK Limited (UK) - The Jerr-e-Can

Powerhive will develop a swappable battery pack called the ‘Jerr-e-Can', which can help improve the use of existing mini-grids. The company’s project will also include an app for renting appliances and purchasing electricity.

Rural Electrification Authority (Zambia) - Design prototyping of a smart-ready board for rural applications

Rural Electrical Authority (REA) is devising a project to develop a smart ready board (SRB), which will efficiently release energy for domestic and productive uses of electricity. This will target rural areas where many people lack access to energy. It will also provide an energy efficient cooking solution, which will reduce labour for women who spend a lot of time collecting firewood for cooking. The SRB will integrate electrical energy storage, smart energy metering, energy dispensing and the mini-grid.

Simusolar(USA) - Developing an inclusive, gender-customised PAY-Go model for productive uses of energy

This project will expand Simusolar’s Internet of Things platform with an innovative, gender-inclusive strategy that allows women farmers working off-grid areas to benefit from solar-irrigation systems and financing.

Sunphase AS (Norway) - New 24/7 off-grid solar electric cookstove with built-in energy storage for refugees

Suphase AS’ project will test, demonstrate and validate a user-friendly new PV solar cookstove. It is the first solar stove that can be used in doors continuously, has built-in thermal energy storage, and eliminates the need for firewood and LPG.

Village Infrastructure Angels (UK) - Developing a solar washing machine and drying system

Village Infrastructure Angels’ project will develop an energy efficient solar washing machine and dryer, which is powered by DC electricity. The dryer will be multi-purpose, with the ability to dry crops and clothes, and dehydrate food for long-term storage using improved cookstove and DC electric fan technology. 

Wala Ltd (Malawi) - Harnessing the sun for agriculture

Wala’s project will pilot a holistic support solution that distributes high quality solar irrigation equipment to smallholder farmers in Malawi. The project will include:

  • Pay-as-you-Grow financing
  • Connections to financing partners to help save and access soft loans for the technologies and farm inputs
  • Contract farming which will ensure secure & consistent revenue (this will also enable the farmers to have capacity to pay for Wala Ltd equipment)
  • Increased chances of success through training on how to use and maintain solar technologies, good agriculture practices and business skills related to farming