Right now, the world faces two defining challenges: climate change and extreme poverty.
Roughly 1.2 billion people don’t have access to electricity, which means children don’t have light to study at night, business owners don’t have electricity for their shops, and health clinics don’t have power to perform life-saving surgery at night.
At the same time, our current energy use is causing the climate to change in ways that threaten the air, land, and water we rely on.
The good news is that sustainable energy provides a solution to both problems. Clean energy technologies – from solar lanterns to clean cookstoves to energy efficient appliances and clean micro-grids – can increasingly deliver our energy needs and open the door to economic opportunities while protecting the planet.
As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth – these are one and the same fight.” Under his leadership, the United Nations has launched the decade of “Sustainable Energy for All” to advance a collective global agenda on renewable energy and energy efficiency and to achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030.
Entrepreneurs are helping lead the way to a sustainable energy future. The United Nations Foundation has seen this close up, as we work daily with entrepreneurs on the cutting edge of energy innovation to help them scale their solutions and services.
Members of our Energy Access Practitioner Network are using off-grid solar powered solutions to provide electricity to homes and health clinics, and partners working with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves are developing cleaner and more efficient cookstoves so women don’t have to cook over open fires that emit toxic smoke. Additionally, young people around the globe are taking action from their homes to their schools to drive progress on our energy and climate challenges.
Thanks in part to the ingenuity of today’s energy entrepreneurs, clean energy technologies continue to improve while their costs decline. In fact, they are already affordable today, and many of them cost less than the dirty and dangerous fuels in use now.
Encouraging continued innovation will be critical to realizing the promise of a sustainable energy future. The Zayed Future Energy Prize, instituted in 2008 in honor of the environmental stewardship of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, recognizes the pioneering work of companies, organizations, and individuals to discover and deploy sustainable energy solutions that can help to address climate change and support better opportunities for all.
The prize incentivizes clean technology innovation and provides much-needed funding for small and medium enterprises, non-governmental organizations, and high schools that are working to more quickly get their solutions and products to the market. For example, in recent years the prize has recognized two members of the Energy Access Practitioner Network: d.light design, which manufactures and distributes solar lighting products to people without access to reliable electricity, and Orb Energy, a leading provider of solar electricity and hot water systems in India. As a judge for this important prize, I encourage innovators to submit applications before this year’s deadline of July 14, 2014.
Energy entrepreneurs are showing all of us that sustainable energy solutions are not a far-off dream; they are making a difference here and now – powering the future and a brighter, healthier world for all of us.