There has been renewed interest in challenge prizes over recent years, as a tool to drive development through innovation. However, there is very little hard evidence of effectiveness of prizes. Where evidence does exist, prizes seem to work best in stimulating new ideas and products, and in engaging the interest of people, organisations and communities on an issue.
Even when technological innovations emerge as a result, they may never become commercially viable products. This is certainly true in the context of improving energy access.
In most cases the factors limiting access to cleaner and more efficient energy supply are not primarily of a technical/engineering nature – inventing more products will on its own make little difference.
If innovation prizes are going to make a difference they need to help tackle some of the issues which prevent technologies reaching market, at the level of market formation, financing and policy.
The paper of GVEP Internatioal examines some of the major problems relating to energy access and the potential application of innovation prizes to these problems. It challenges the assumption that prizes are an easy way to solve energy access problems.
This paper is part of a suite of four papers (a guide and three thematic papers) that capture the learning from the first year of the Ideas to Impact programme.
Ideas to Impact is a DFID-funded programme which is experimenting with the use of innovation prizes to solve development challenges. The programme covers three broad thematic areas: water and sanitation, energy access and climate adaptation.
Download the full study here.