The Azraq refugee camp in Jordan established in 2014 for Syrian refugees faced regular power outages and unreliable access to electricity – a situation that afflicts most refugee camps around the world.
Fortunately for the residents of Azraq, Heba Asa’d saw an opportunity in their dilemma.
Asa’d is CEO and Co-Founder of NeuroTech, a startup that developed a smart energy management system to optimize the use of energy in underserved areas that lack access to reliable electricity, such as refugee camps.
The 31-year-old Jordan native says her company is meeting a need that would otherwise go unfulfilled, as people living in refugee camps are some of the most affected by lack of access to electricity.
In 2017, Azraq became the world’s first refugee camp to be powered by solar energy. While the clean energy system was extremely beneficial to the residents, who had lived without electricity until then, it was designed with little consideration for their actual energy demand needs. The electricity is susceptible to supply shortages, making it hard to meet the residents’ continuous energy needs, especially critical life-saving medical energy needs.
“The electricity system in Azraq was failing. It was not providing lighting at night to allow children to study, and it was not powering the nebulizers and other medical devices critically needed during the COVID-19 pandemic to help children and adults breathe,” Asa’d said.
Households in Azraq are entitled to approximately 16 hours of electricity per day, but many were receiving significantly less — closer to 9 hours a day, according to Asa’d. The camp’s electricity model does not encourage efficient usage from the users’ side and does not allow each household to manage their essential needs individually, such as the ability to prioritize lighting, medical devices or refrigeration.
To address this problem, NeuroTech developed an innovative energy optimizer that uses artificial intelligence (AI)-based algorithms that maintain a fair distribution of energy. Their energy management system funnels energy to high-priority areas where it is needed most, like the camp’s hospital and resident’s personal nebulizers.
Their smart system redistributes energy in the following way: the first energy feeder is dedicated to high priority loads, such as medical devices, lighting and refrigeration, while the second is dedicated to low priority loads, such as air conditioning, fans and electric heaters. The energy feeder limits are defined based on a smart algorithm.
“For the first time, by separating loads, beneficiaries are guaranteed to receive their life-saving energy, and the extra energy is then sent to low priority loads according to energy availability,” Asa’d said.
In their pilot phase, NeuroTech extended 24-hour electricity access to 1,000 Azraq residents. Since then, they have secured 24-hour electricity access for over 10,000 of the camp’s residents.
Off-the-shelf solutions lack the same level of precision and control, as they are typically generic monitoring tools without integrated controlling capabilities. Additionally, refugee camps pose significant logistical challenges that make it difficult to install existing plug-and-play options.
“Our solution is designed with humanitarian aspects in mind. And not only that, but also beneficiaries are involved in the design process for the first time ever, which is something still unavailable in our markets,” Asa’d said.
NeuroTech was able to develop a working solution thanks in large part to a commitment to working directly with the residents on the ground, and thanks to their smart system’s ability to collect detailed data. Often the lack of reliable data on energy usage and consumption in refugee camps makes it difficult to estimate the real overall energy demand for camp facilities and households.
“One of our goals is to collect detailed data on the nature of electricity consumption in the targeted areas, which is useful in providing the necessary data for research and to interpret the behavior and improve it using incentive-based program,” Asa’d shared.
NeuroTech’s system is especially convenient for non-governmental organizations and funding agencies that aid the camp. That’s because NeuroTech’s smart energy management system helps reduce the camp’s overall energy consumption by storing excess electricity that was previously wasted and feeding it where it is needed most at peak demand times.
Now, after winning the 2023 Zayed Sustainability Prize in the Energy category, NeuroTech is using the US $600,000 fund to further develop and improve their technology, expand their operations and reach
more people in need.
As a Zayed Sustainability Prize winner, NeuroTech is gaining greater recognition and exposure in the industry, which in turn is helping them attract new customers, investors and partners. Winning the Prize is also providing them with the opportunity to network with other innovative companies and organizations, and potentially collaborate on new projects and initiatives, underscoring the importance of entities like the Prize in helping to catalyze the global sustainability movement by inspiring collective action on a global scale.
The Zayed Sustainability Prize is the United Arab Emirates’ pioneering global award in sustainability. Today, the prize counts 15 years of global impact with over 378 million people around the world benefitting from its 106 winners’ solutions.
The Zayed Sustainability Prize aims to drive sustainable development and humanitarian action by recognising and rewarding organizations and high schools with sustainable solutions in health, food, energy, water, and now with its new, special category: Climate Action.
The Climate Action category is a recognition of the urgent need to address the global climate crisis. It seeks to award small and medium sized enterprises and nonprofit organizations that are leading the way in deploying environmental solutions and solutions that build climate adaptation and resilience.
Like the other organizational categories – Health, Food, Energy and Water – the Prize will award the winner of the Climate Action category US $600,000. High schools from around the world can submit their student-led project proposals in the Global High Schools category for an opportunity to win up to US $100,000.
Submissions across all categories and nominations of worthy SMEs and NPOs to the Climate Action category are currently being accepted until 23 May 2023.
This article is supported by the Zayed Sustainability Prize.
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