I thought the Zayed Future Energy Prize was cool when I first attended one of its awards ceremonies during the annual World Future Energy Summit and Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. I thought it was cooler after working with the Zayed Future Energy Prize (ZFEP) crew for a couple of years to highlight prize winners and finalists. This year, I was added to the ZFEP Review Committee, which meant that I was in Abu Dhabi last week for a few days to help narrow 82 shortlisted candidates down to 40.
One key takeaway from my time there is that the cleantech industry has become much more mature, robust, effective, and mainstream over the 10 years of the prize’s existence. The number of submissions has grown year after year, this year jumping to a record 2,296 entries, which meant a 37% increase compared to 2016. Submissions came from a whopping 112 different countries.
However, quantity isn’t everything, and the more compelling point I heard mentioned time and again while in Abu Dhabi — from Masdar staff I talked to, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) consultants who have been involved in this process for years, and other committee members — is that the quality of the companies and organizations competing for the prize has improved dramatically over time.
Writing, curating, and editing content on CleanTechnica since 2009, this came as no surprise. The wind industry has grown to become perhaps the most competitive option for new electricity globally. The solar industry is hot on its tail, after going from from niche and largely ignored to one of the fastest growing and most influential industries in the world. And then, of course, there’s the electric vehicle industry — we hardly mentioned an electric vehicle in 2009, but look at its presence on CleanTechnica and globally now.
What that meant in my life last week is that I was inundated with inspiration during two jam-packed days evaluating 82 short-listed cleantech leaders in the Large Corporation, Small & Medium Enterprise, Nonprofit, and Lifetime Achievement award categories. The 315-page book potently summarizing each of the finalists was full of stories, facts, and figures that CleanTechnica has covered obsessively in its decade of existence. While I generally try to reflect on industry trends and keep the big picture in mind, evaluating the overall impact, vision, and innovation of these 82 contestants was a genuinely awe-inspiring experience.
Large corporations are increasingly implementing large cleantech investments and programs. Others are driving the unprecedented transition to cleantech via mass production and sales. Small & medium enterprises are growing in size, number, and global impact. Nonprofits are achieving under-recognized and life-saving goals thousands of times a day. And the number of people who genuinely deserve Lifetime Achievement awards is insane.
Luckily, our group wasn’t tasked with the huge challenge of comparing the high school contestants — the most inspiring group of all. But here’s an inspiring note on previous winners in that category alone: “To date, the achievements of winners of the Global High Schools category have resulted in the reduction of 1,685 tonnes of carbon emissions and the generation of 2.1 million kWh of renewable energy, making a difference to the lives of around 340,000 people in communities around the world.”
No, I can’t tell you who the 40 contestants are that we pushed through to the Selection Committee, but I can say with confidence that whichever companies, organizations, and individuals make it through that round of evaluation deserve a lot of congratulations and love, and each of them could win the prize on any given Sunday.
Until the next update on this prize, below are a few choice quotes from leadership long involved in the prize’s growth and development.
Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, Dr Nawal Al-Hosany, said:
“Against the recent backdrop of devastating natural disasters across the world, there is a greater understanding than ever that we need to adopt sustainable solutions to global challenges. Renewable energy plays a critical role in addressing such challenges. Through its winners, the Zayed Future Energy Prize has played a vital role in driving innovation in commercially viable, accessible clean energy development that will be a part of the solution to the wider challenge of climate change.
“This is strongly evident in the entries we have evaluated over the course of the Review Committee meetings and are proud of the efforts of all applicants. The prize has already transformed the lives of millions of people throughout the world, and is a fitting legacy to Sheikh Zayed’s vision. There is no better way to usher in the Year of Zayed as we celebrate the Zayed Future Energy Prize’s 10th year of positively impacting the lives of people globally by providing them a better quality of life and enabling communities to flourish through access to renewable energy.”
Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and Director General of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, added:
“The impact of the Zayed Future Energy Prize is a testament of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s inspired vision. It serves to, not only create a mindset of sustainability amongst the youth, but to also mould future generations committed to innovating sustainable solutions for our world. Ultimately, the prize aims to deliver a positive impact to the livelihood of people globally. To date, we are proud to say that it has created a positive change for the lives of 289 million people across the world.”
And here’s a word from His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former president of the Republic of Iceland and Chair of the Zayed Future Energy Prize Jury:
“It is heartening to see the continuing growth of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, as well as its ability to reach people and organisations of all levels globally. Its role in giving due recognition and reward to innovators and advocates of renewable energy and sustainability serves as a catalyst for driving the sector forward. Year on year, we see the impact of the Zayed Future Energy Prize on the lives of people around the world, be it in remote regions or cosmopolitan cities.”
Wang Chuanfu (founder and Chairman of BYD)
Al Gore (the former Vice President of the United States, among other things)
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (the former President of Iceland)
Christoph Ostermann (co-founder and CEO of sonnen)
John G. Rice (Vice Chairman of GE)
Anish Thakkar (co-founder and CEO of Greenlight Planet)
Dipal Barua (the first winner of the Zayed Future Energy Prize)
Ewa Wojkowska (co-founder and COO of Kopernik)
Xavier Helgesen (co-founder and CEO of Off Grid Electric)
Richenda van Leeuwen (Executive Director of the Energy and Climate, Energy Access Initiative team at the United Nations Foundation)
Illac Diaz (founder and Executive Director of Liter of Light)
Jesse Moore (co-founder and CEO of M-Kopa)
Richard Turner (Chief Fundraiser at SolarAid)
Kathy Calvin (CEO and President of the United Nations Foundation).
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