A $1 million global competition to develop scalable solutions to energy poverty.

The goal of the IEEE Empower a Billion Lives competition is to foster interdisciplinary innovation in the global community to develop and demonstrate solutions to electricity access that are designed to scale, regionally relevant, holistic, and leverage 21st century technologies that feature exponentially declining prices.

The competition is agnostic to energy sources, technologies, business models, and will primarily evaluate potential impact and ability to rapidly and sustainably scale the solutions to one billion customers.


  • 3 Billion people live in energy poverty, including 1.1 Billion people without any access to electricity
  • 95% of utilities in the Sub-Saharan Africa cannot recover their operational and capital costs
  • 110 million people have gained improved access using solar lanterns, however most of them don’t even meet minimum tier 1 requirements for electricity access
  • Only 1.8 million people have tier 2 access that enables improved livelihood and productivity using off-grid electric services

More of the same may not be the answer. New strategies are required to scale deployment 1000x. The IEEE Power Electronics Society is launching a global competition - Empower a Billion Lives - to crowdsource the innovation needed to overcome this scaling challenge.

Target customers

  • Must be off-grid or have grid access less than 4 hours a day (see Sustainable Energy for All tiers 0-1)
  • Purchasing power: Below the global poverty line: <$1.90/day
  • Living in rural areas: >90%
  • Access to bank accounts: <50%
  • Access to smart phones: <50%

Targeted electricity needs

Tier 2 electricity access (200 Wh/day) and above including but not limited to

  • Household uses: Lighting and phone charging, telecommunication, entertainment, air circulation, refrigeration, water pumping, etc.
  • Community uses: Public lighting, water pumping & purification, etc.
  • Productive uses: Agricultural manufacturing, light manufacturing, commerce, etc.


Online round
May 2018

  • Registered teams present their solution concept and a five-minute pitch video
  • Business evaluation: Estimate value and costs
  • Technical evaluation: Present technology approach

Regional rounds
Nov 2018 to Jan 2019

  • Qualified teams present their field test plan
  • Business evaluation: Present business plan and scaling roadmap
  • Technical evaluation: Demonstrate prototype system and core function
  • Locations:
    • Nov 2018 | IEEE PEAC | Shenzhen, China | East Asia
    • Dec 2018 | IEEE SPEC | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | Africa
    • Dec 2018 | IEEE PEDAS | Chennai, India | South Asia
    • Jan 2019 | Delft, Netherlands | Europe
    • Jan 2019 | Atlanta, GA, USA | Americas

Global final
Sep 2019

  • Qualified teams show economic viability, and cyber & financial security
  • Business evaluation: Show function at scale in real locations
  • Technical evaluation: Demonstration of ruggedized solution
  • Location: Sep 2019 | Baltimore, MD, USA | Americas

Design criteria

  • Holistic sustainable technology-based solutions that are designed to scale
  • Accompanied by a viable business plan that is specifically designed for the Base of the Pyramid
  • Integrate communications, Pay/Go, Cybersecurity, microfinance as needed
  • Enables electricity access from the bottom-up; without centralized planning and investment
  • Address challenge of managing a fleet of millions of devices
  • Create new income generating opportunities for target customer group
  • Additional value streams for external stakeholders
  • Utilizes carbon neutral technologies

Competition tracks

Existing solutions

These are solutions that are already commercially available, meeting the electricity needs of the target customer group, and have radical scaling potential.

Emerging single-user solutions

These are new solutions that meet the needs of a single household in the target customer group. They provide lighting and cell-phone charging as a basic service, but any other value streams are highly desirable, such as telecommunication, TV, radio, refrigeration, fans, water pumping and purification, etc.

Emerging multi-user solutions

These are solutions that meet the needs of multiple users as well as extends out to meet the needs of the community. These devices are expected to be able to create, interconnect and manage a grid (including market functions) from the bottom up. They provide lighting and cell-phone charging as a basic service, but meeting complex energy demand is highly desirable, such as public lighting, public water works, sanitation, milling, welding, sewing, construction, light manufacturing, electric bike and tuktuk charging, cooking, air conditioning, etc.

Organized by

Supporting organizations

Join the competition

Interested? Get involved by forming a team or joining the community.