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Experimenting with innovation prizes

Solar fridge

Experimenting with innovation prizes

Prizes have long been used as a way of stimulating technological innovation. More recently, governments have started to use innovation prizes to tackle social issues.

The Ideas to Impact programme, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), aimed to test the application of innovation prizes in a development context and sought to deliver effective solutions in the areas of climate mitigation and adaptation, energy access, water and sanitation.

Energy 4 Impact has been leading the work on energy access. The team designed two prizes to drive innovation in the solar refrigeration market: the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition and the Off-Grid Cold Chain Competition (OGCCC).  

The Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition aimed to identify products that are efficient enough to run economically on solar panels and can also be suitable for micro-entrepreneurs.  A total of 36 individual solar refrigerators were tested in laboratories for technical performance and in the field to determine efficiency, reliability and design appropriateness for off-gird users. The winning fridge manufacturer Palfridge, an Eswatini-based company, was awarded US$200,000 from the competition. Their model demonstrated market-leading advancement during field testing, was energy efficient, easy to install, use, and maintain. 

OGCCC focused on larger, off-grid cooling technology for use in agricultural businesses. Ten off-grid energy-efficient, sustainable and cost-effective technologies, with potential to meet the needs of African farmers and food suppliers, were shortlisted from 28 applicants. The 10 shortlisted applicants were awarded £10,000 each to deploy their off-grid cold storage units to Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda or Tanzania where they were tested in the field. The winners of the second round were announced in the summer of 2019 and received cash prizes up to £75,000 to deploy their units.

The Challenge was instrumental to prove viable business models for off-grid cold storage technology solutions serving smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Ideas 2 Impact programme ended in September 2020 and generated a wealth of knowledge on how prizes can be used to drive innovation for development. Key learnings are summarised in a series of reports.