Solar power for a health centre, a solar-powered fridge to support the cold chain for farmers, and empowering women through renewable energy: these are the three projects that won the 2020 Micro-Grid Academy Young Talent of the Year Award. The three winners are Norah Magero and Elly Kevin Oriko, both from Kenya, and Eileen Phoebe Lara from Uganda. Their successes were recently announced by Salvatore Bernabei, President of the RES4Africa Foundation.

The awards programme was launched last year by the RES4Africa Foundation, which promotes the Micro-Grid Academy, with the support of Enel Green Power. The main aim of the initiative is to reward young African talents who, through particular projects and initiatives, seek to address the major environmental and social challenges that hamper the development of African countries.

RES4Africa Young Talent

Winners of the Young Talent Awards, from left: Norah Magero, Elly Kevin Oriko, and Eileen Phoebe Lara.

Bernabei said, “These Micro-Grid Academy students were able to make the most of the training they received, demonstrating how they would extend the knowledge they had acquired by creating a real project to bring a concrete impact in their communities. They demonstrated their ability to think out of the box, to be the change that is needed, and I’m glad today to announce the winners of the first edition of this awards programme.” Bernabei congratulated the winners noting that “empowering the youth means empowering the development of entire communities.”

The awards programme was open to young African innovators from the Micro-Grid Academy network who had launched renewable energy-related innovative ideas in their communities. Among the projects submitted, the three winning ones were selected for their ingenuity and their potential positive impact.

Through the Micro-Grid Academy, the RES4Africa Foundation aims to play its part in the achievement of specific sustainable development goals (SDGs): providing access to energy (SDG 7), quality education (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG 5), by ensuring relevant training opportunities. The awards programme was launched to enable particularly forward-thinking participants to scale up their projects and activities. The initiative was appreciated and will be replicated in 2021.

The winners

In her solar powered portable fridge, with a detachable battery, Norah Magero translated the Water-Energy-Food nexus, approached at the Micro-Grid Academy, into Koyo, an affordable 50-litre solar-powered fridge/freezer. It is light, simple to transport (easily mounted on bicycles or motorbikes) and prevents food loss. Koyo is designed to assist small producers of dairy and poultry products who make a living out of riding their bikes around to sell their goods. Such a ‘small’ product can have a significant impact on the daily lives of so many people, filling a gap in the access to energy. As Norah explains, “There are existing solutions for off-grid SMEs in Kenya that supply solar-powered containerised cold storage. The main disadvantage of these solutions is that they are unaffordable for rural women. They are also bulky, and therefore not ideal for most micro-agripreneurs, who are always on the move.” As it is easy to transport, the fridge/freezer could also be used in distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to rural areas. Additionally, it works as a power bank and a home lighting station.

Elly Kevin Oriko and his team designed a solar electrification solution for the Juja Farm Health Centre. It serves up to 60 people a day, but the unreliability of the power supply made the use of a diesel generator necessary. Elly went on to involve other MGA students in the installation phase, offering them the chance of participating in an initiative with a significant social impact.

Eileen Phoebe Lara proposed the work of WREAU (Women in Renewable Energy Association Uganda): aiming to increase women's involvement in renewable energy, especially in rural areas. It is based on capacity building, awareness and mentorship and adopts the making of briquettes as proxy for financial autonomy while curbing deforestation.

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