Zayed Future Energy Prize Rewards Cleantech Leaders0

Layla Bellows | Tue Aug 23 2011 |

Solar cells, wind turbines, hydroelectricity—decades ago these terms were relegated to the world of environmentalists and fringe activists. Today, however, sustainable solutions to global energy needs have become part of mainstream consciousness. Whether discussing climate change, energy security, or peak oil, the bottom line is that everyday people are recognizing that our reliance on fossil fuels is swiftly coming to an end.

Then there are people who aren’t just discussing the issues; they’re actively pursuing change in how we meet our energy needs. People like Dipal Barua, founder and chairman of Bright Green Energy Foundation, who brought electricity to 2.2 million homes in Bangladesh by facilitating the construction of 245,000 solar electricity systems on homes throughout the country.

His efforts to bring renewable energy systems to people in need of electricity helped earn him the first-ever Zayed Future Energy Prize in 2009.

About the Zayed Future Energy Prize

The prize recognizes leaders, visionaries, organizations, researchers, global companies and even high school students who are leading the way toward a future in which sustainable energy is more than a watercooler topic; it’s a way of life. The prize is something of a legacy for the United Arab Emirates’ creator and longtime ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who died in 2004. Throughout his life, Zayed promoted the responsible use of the UAE’s resources and conservation of its wildlife.

The goal of the Zayed Future Energy Prize is to become a driving force behind innovation and energy solutions.

Sustainability could be seen as an ongoing hallmark of the country. Though its economic strength was born from the oil reserves discovered in the late 1950s, under the government’s economic diversification strategy, 64 percent of the country’s GDP is now non-oil and gas. By reducing its own reliance on fossil fuels for ongoing economic health, it could be said the country has created a more sustainable economy as the world’s energy creation continues to evolve.

Finalists and winners

The goal of the Zayed Future Energy Prize is to become a driving force behind innovation and energy solutions, not just to help find renewable forms of energy but also in response to global climate change.

Solar and wind energy are the go-to technologies in many people’s minds when considering alternative energy sources, and indeed these have been recognized by the Future Energy Prize. This year, the grand prize went to Vestas, a Danish maker of wind turbines, with the jury recognizing the company’s long history and ongoing mission to promote the use of wind as a renewable source of power.

In 2010, Zhengrong Shi, founder and CEO of Suntech Power Holdings Company, was awarded runner-up in recognition of his company’s achievements in the solar energy market. The company started in 2001 with just 20 people, and today it is the world’s largest manufacturer of silicon solar modules.

Behind every piece of deployable technology, there are pioneering scientists who have devoted decades to the research, design, and ideas that make its creation and use possible, and the prize recognizes their contributions as well. Amory B. Lovins, co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, was awarded a runner-up prize this year for his work in integrative design methods for energy efficient buildings, vehicles, and factories. The 2009 finalist prize was awarded to Martin Green, a leading researcher in photovoltaics.

In some cases, prizewinners are developing solutions to energy needs many might not think of when considering clean energy issues. For instance, Amitabha Sadangi, CEO of International Development Prizes (India), was a runner-up in the 2010 competition—at the time a $350,000 award. His organization helps the rural poor by deploying easy-to-use, environmentally sustainable and affordable technology to irrigate small-scale farms.

This year E+Co, an investment firm specializing in clean energy enterprises in the developing world, was awarded runner-up. Examples of E+Co investments include Sobre La Roca, an organization that sells solar cookers, energy efficient stoves, and hot pots to villagers in rural and mountainous areas of Bolivia, where cooking can involve a day’s work or a great deal of money just to collect firewood.

This year’s jury includes leaders from fields ranging from technology to real estate, not to mention Andre Agassi and Leonardo DiCaprio.

While prizewinners come from diverse fields and backgrounds, they hold in common a goal to take advantage of technology to create a more sustainable way of life. And they have stiff competition. This year, Vestas, E+Co, and Lovins bested clean tech heavyweights like Better Place, Shai Agassi’s company dedicated to sustainable transportation; First Solar, a maker of high-efficiency thin film modules; and 7th Generation Advisors’ Terry Tamminen, who has spent two decades developing renewable energy solutions in California.

How it works

Managed by Masdar in Abu Dhabi, the prize follows strict scoring procedures by separate agencies, beginning with an external research and analysis firm that selects the top 100 candidates. From there, a review committee selects 40 candidates for the selection committee, which selects the top entries for the final jury. This year’s jury includes presidents Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of the Republic of Iceland and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, and activists and leaders from fields ranging from technology to real estate, not to mention Andre Agassi and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Throughout the scoring process, candidates are judged on the same three overarching requirements: innovation, long-term vision, and leadership. SMEs and NGOs are a separate entry category from large corporations and have differing selection criteria matching the scope and size of their organizations.

Furthermore, SMEs and NGOs are the primary recipients of the prize money, now at a total of $4 million. The grand prize winner receives $1.5 million, the first runner up receives $1 million, and the second runner up receives $500,000. There is also a lifetime achievement award of $500,000 and a high school award of $500,000. Large corporations receive recognition only.

Nominations for the 2012 awards closed on Aug. 22, 2011, but registration for candidates is open through Sept. 19.