“Access to energy is absolutely fundamental in the struggle against poverty,” said World Bank Vice President Rachel Kyte at the 2014 Vienna Energy Forum. “It is energy that lights the lamp that lets you do your homework, that keeps the heat on in a hospital, that lights the small businesses where most people work.
Without energy, there is no economic growth, there is no dynamism and there is no opportunity.” However, over 3.5 billion people (nearly half of the world’s population) experience energy poverty. This is defined as the lack of access to sufficient, reliable sources of energy that are necessary to provide even the most basic human needs.
In addition to impeding economic progress, energy poverty contributes to a global health crisis. For 40 percent of the world’s population, simply cooking food or heating homes is far more threatening to health than poor sanitation, water quality or smog. About 3.5 million people, mainly women and children, die each year from respiratory illness due to harmful indoor air pollution from wood and biomass cookstoves. That’s more than double the annual deaths attributed either to malaria (1.2 million) or to HIV/AIDS (1.5 million).
However, there is a lot of innovation going on in this space. Today we feature three Kenyan start-ups, all of whom were finalists in the 2015 Challenge Cup – a global competition that highlight disruptive thinkers and showcases highly scalable companies from around the globe that are tackling seemingly insurmountable problems and improving the lives of millions.
Eco Fuels Kenya (EFK Group) — Based in Laikipia, Kenya, EFK Group produces energy (biofuel, briquettes) and agriculture (fertilizer, poultry feed) products for industrial customers through a no-waste manufacturing process based entirely on the Croton nut, which grows indigenously across 8 African countries and has no other commercial, productive or edible use.
PowerGen Renewable Energy — Based in Nairobi, Kenya, PowerGen Renewable Energy, installs kW-scale wind and solar power systems in East Africa as well as solar water pumping systems, inverter/battery backup systems, LED lighting and solar water heating. PowerGen has undertaken projects in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Somalia and was the winner of the regional Nairobi Challenge Cup.
Strauss Energy — Also based in Nairobi, Strauss Energy focuses on reducing extreme poverty by converting freely available clean energy into passive income, using subtle roofing tile made of plastic with solar cells to generate power from the sun enough to power a house and a little extra to sell.
These three companies, along with the other 13 finalists spent a week in Washington DC at the Challenge Festival where they were connected to investors and mentors to help them succeed, as well as introduced to the corporations and policymakers who are looking for fresh ideas that have the potential to solve big, difficult challenges. Congratulations to these Kenyan energypreneurs. The world needs more folks like you!