Press Releases

Press release: Efficiency for Access Design Challenge celebrates university students promoting clean energy access in emerging economies

University students from Kenya, Uganda, and the UK beat teams from around the world to win the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge at today’s Grand Final event. Delivered by Efficiency for Access, with the support of Engineers Without Borders UK, the Challenge is a global, multi-disciplinary competition that empowers teams of university students to help accelerate clean energy access. It is supported by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation.     

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge invited teams of university students to design affordable and energy-efficient appliances and technologies for low to middle income countries. By bringing together and inspiring university students, the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge’s goal was to foster innovation in the off-grid appliances sector. The competition also sought to address barriers limiting market expansion in this area.      

The winning teams’ projects are:      

  • Gold: University College London, ‘Off-grid electric pressure Cookers for Sub-Saharan African communities’, and Makerere University, Uganda, ‘Standalone solar load management system’  
  • Silver: University of Strathclyde, ‘e-Cook for developing countries’, and Makerere University, ‘Solar energy efficient fish dryer’  
  • Bronze: Strathmore University, ‘Kijiji, a solar powered container with essential services for empowering rural communities’, and University of Bath, ‘Off-grid refrigeration systems (ACE)’    

International Environment Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said:    

“Climate change is one of the biggest global threats we face, so it’s fantastic to see students from around the world helping us to achieve a greener future by finding innovative solutions to improve access to clean energy. This not only protects the environment, but also people’s health.     

“UK aid has already given 26 million people in the world’s poorest countries improved access to clean energy and we will continue to drive through such global change, including as hosts of COP26 next year.”  

 The Challenge began in September 2019 with students submitting their projects in April 2020 and presenting their projects to a panel of expert judges on 17 and 19 June. Given COVID-19 restrictions, the pitching sessions were delivered online. Participating universities were Durham University, Independent University of Bangladesh, Loughborough University, Makerere University, Strathmore University, Swansea University, University College London, University of Bath and the University of Strathclyde.    

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

“The IKEA Foundation is thrilled to celebrate the outstanding work of the winning teams in the inaugural year of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. If we are serious about delivering renewable energy access for all by 2030, we need innovative ideas from creative people today. The University College London team has done just that.”    

Today’s Grand Final event provided a platform for the winning teams to showcase their submissions to over 150 leading academia, students, companies and investors in the off-grid sector. In the coming months, Efficiency for Access will promote students’ projects across its digital and social media channels.    

Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering at Engineers Without Borders UK, said:     

“We’ve been incredibly inspired by the students’ creativity, passion and approach to the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, developing their learning through this real-world design challenge and further support from the off-grid industry mentors. Congratulations to the winning teams and all the students who took part in the competition.”    

840 million people around the world live without access to electricity or appliances that enable them to earn a living or provide essential services including clean cooking, irrigating agriculture and communications. To develop markets for these appliances and enhance clean energy access, products need to become even more efficient and affordable.   


Winning projects 


Joris Simaitis, Maryam Naqvi, Halaa Elhassan, University College London, Off-grid electric pressure cookers for Sub-Saharan African communities  

Three billion people lack access to clean cooking fuels and technology and rely on traditional biomass fuels such as firewood and charcoal. Using these cooking methods creates household air pollution, which triggers diseases such as pneumonia that disproportionately affect women and children. These fuels also create numerous negative environmental impacts such as deforestation. Development organisations have deployed solutions such as improved cookstoves (ICS) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to address the issues associated with biomass fuels. However, challenges of accessibility, environmental degradation and affordability remain.  

To address this situation, the University College London team proposed a communal DC electric pressure cooker, which can be powered by Solar Home Systems on a pay-as-you-go business model. The team found that a communal SHS EPC provided a much more feasible model to displace biomass fuels and feed multiple households. In the project, the team designed basic mechanical and electrical features and proposed a conceptual circular supply-chain was proposed to maximise the sustainability of the SHS EPCs. Furthermore, a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) business model was developed to overcome the high upfront costs of SHS EPCs, providing affordable customer routes.  

Derrick Sibo, Innocent Weredwong, Peter Mukasa, Silivio Obeti, Makerere University, Uganda,  

Standalone solar load management system 

Many health centres and hospitals in Uganda are not connected to the national electrical grid and depend on solar power. They also experience frequent electricity outages.  

To address this problem, Makerere University created a prototype for a stand-alone solar load management system for hospitals and health centres to manage solar energy efficiently. Its main objective is to help users manage DC loads connected to a system. The key components of the design are a microcontroller and ampere-hour meter. The ampere-hour meter measures battery capacity and then relays the information to the main microcontroller, which is programmed to cut off current supply to intermediate and non-priority loads depending on battery capacity. Furthermore, in the design, additional microcontrollers are connected to different circuits in the design, which communicate with the main microcontroller.  

As a result, the prototype fully leverages Uganda’s plentiful solar energy supply, which helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve people’s quality of life. The proposed components are also locally available, making the design inexpensive to produce.  


Evarest Ampaire, Ivan Musingo, Fred Wanjara, Reagan Massembe, Makerere University, Uganda, Solar energy efficient fish dryer 

Fishing is a significant part of Uganda’s agricultural industry, but processing remains underdeveloped. Fishermen cannot dry their fish easily, as they lack access to appropriate technology. Furthermore, electricity in off-grid areas such as landing sites is expensive and inaccessible, which means that fishermen cannot use refrigerators or electric dryers. When solar dryers are available, drying fish takes many hours. As a result, there is a significant amount of fish spoilage.  

Makerere University’s project proposes an affordable, solar-powered dryer that dries fish efficiently. It uses solar energy in two forms: heat radiation and solar DC electricity. The solar electricity improves air flow by using a DC fan, which accelerates drying small fish. In addition, a sensor system powered by solar DC monitors temperature and humidity in the drying cabinet. This helps to create the right drying conditions for high-quality, preserved fish. In addition, the system requires minimal supervision, as it can be locked during operation.   

By leveraging solar energy in this way, the dryer eliminates the need to use firewood to smoke and preserve fish. It can also help fishermen eliminate the loss of fish.  

Calum Watkins, Wei-Wen Tan, Iain Wright, Elliot Wilson, University of Strathclyde – eCook for developing countries 

In developing countries across the world, many people cook food on open fires, which use solid biomass fuels such as coal, charcoal, and wood. Cooking in this way can trigger health problems, significant environmental damage and socio-economic problems that stem from the collection and use of solid fuels. 

To address this situation, the University of Strathclyde proposed an affordable and user-friendly solar powered electric cooking device, which could be used to cook food instead of open fires. The cooker relies on low power diode electric heating technology that allows users to monitor energy use. It also has a simple, robust construction and energy efficient insulated design, which is easy to maintain. In addition, the team has proposed an affordable financing model to make the product accessible for low-income users.  

As such, this electric cooking device could help reduce mortality rates, which are linked to household air pollution. Its use of solar energy also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  


Raymond Kiyegga, Fredrick Amariati, Alex Osunga, Strathmore University– Kijiji, a solar powered container with essential services for empowering rural communities 

Value addition efforts for smallholder farmers and SMEs in rural areas in Kenya can help improve the livelihoods of local communities. However, these interventions require quality access to energy, which is lacking in existing energy solutions. For productive uses, petrol/diesel generators are mostly used, which are polluting and very expensive to maintain.  

To address this situation, the Strathmore University team has proposed Kijiji, a solar-powered container that supports value addition for rural smallholder farmers and SMEs by providing reliable solar powered energy. The system size ranges from 15kW to 50Kw, with a battery storage ranging from 4000 – 8000AH, able to power agricultural, SMEs and health applications. The system range also provides room for expansion based on changes in rural market needs.  

By leveraging solar power, Kijiji helps provide clean energy access, which can be used in a variety of settings. As a result, it can help power a range of economic activities and give users time needed to engage in additional entrepreneurial activities. Through different preservation options, farmers can enhance their income by reducing or eliminating post-harvest losses and increasing production yields.  

Jey Ashokkumaar, Javier Klatovsky-Buey, Llyr Jones, Eliot Serrano-Davey, Thivinesh Pathmanathan , University of Bath, Off-grid refrigeration solution (ACE) 

The University of Bath team proposed a refrigerator, which could be used in off-grid communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. It uses ethanal-carbon adsorption and relies on solar energy, which is suited to regional weather conditions. The fridge also uses rigid polyurethane foam, which can result in fewer environmental impact compared to alternatives. In addition, the design is an open-topped cube,  

with three compartments compromising of an adjustable humidity section, upper basket section and a large lower section. Free convection within the refrigerator will allow for a uniform temperature gradient, being warmer towards the top. Frost and humidity will be managed using a drainage hole and removable frost panel located between the cooling technology and internal space.  

About the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge 

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge’s panel of judges included Steven Hunt, Senior Energy Innovation Advisor, UK Department for International Development; Jeffrey Prins, Head of Portfolio – Renewable Energy, IKEA Foundation; and Leslie Labruto, Global Head of Energy, Acumen. The judging panel evaluated students’ projects based on the below three criteria:  

  • How designs improve on currently available solutions for end-users 
  • Their ability to enhance users’ quality of life 
  • Feasibility to get to market at scale  

Efficiency for Access and Engineers Without Borders UK have successfully collaborated to deliver the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. The Challenge is funded by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation.   

Engineers Without Borders UK’s experience with design competitions for students and Efficiency for Access’ technical expertise in the area of off-grid efficient appliances have made this programme a success. 

Efficiency for Access  

Efficiency for Access is a global coalition working to promote high performing appliances that enable access to clean energy for the world’s poorest people. It is a catalyst for change, accelerating the growth of off-grid appliance markets to boost incomes, reduce carbon emissions, improve quality of life and support sustainable development. Efficiency for Access consists of 15 Donor Roundtable Members, 10 Programme Partners, and more than 30 Investor Network members. Current Efficiency for Access Coalition members have programmes and initiatives spanning 44 countries and 22 key technologies.  

The Efficiency for Access Coalition is coordinated jointly by CLASP, an international appliance energy efficiency and market development specialist not-for-profit organisation, and Energy Saving Trust, which specialises in energy efficiency product verification, data and insight, advice and research.

Engineers Without Borders UK 

Engineers Without Borders UK engages and galvanises the engineering community to serve all people and our planet better than ever before. Part of a global movement of over 60 Engineers Without Borders organisations, to inspire, enable and influence the engineering community and together take action to put global responsibility at the heart of engineering. An example of their work is the award-winning Engineering for People Design Challenge. Every year they educate over 7,000 students to understand their responsibility and develop the skills to act on this. Find out more at   

UK Aid  

UK aid from the UK government, through the Department for International Development (DFID) which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty. It tackles the global challenges of our time including poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity and conflict. Its work is building a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for people in developing countries and in the UK too.  

IKEA Foundation   

The IKEA Foundation (Stichting IKEA Foundation) works to create a better everyday life for the many people. As the philanthropic arm of INGKA Foundation, the owner of the IKEA Group of companies, we focus on improving the lives of vulnerable children by enabling their families to create sustainable livelihoods, and to fight and cope with climate change. Learn more at