IEEE Empower a Billion Lives

The IEEE Empower A Billion Lives competition is a $1 million global challenge to create energy access solutions that can scale to one billion people living in extreme energy poverty.


The goal of the IEEE Empower a Billion Lives competition is to enable the creation of holistic and financially sustainable solutions for energy access that can rapidly scale to one billion people living in energy poverty.

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.

Organized by



  • 1.2 billion people live without access to electricity. An additional 2 billion people cannot earn a livelihood because of energy poverty
  • Global philanthropic and entrepreneurial initiatives have brought light to 40 million people — but that is not enough. We need to scale by ~100x to achieve the electrification goals set by in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Target customer

  • Off-grid or have access less than two hours a day
  • Purchasing power below global poverty line (less than $1.90/day)
  • More than 90% live in rural areas
  • Less than 50% have bank accounts

Hierarchy of electricity needs

  1. Illumination, mobile phone charging
  2. Telecommunication, entertainment: TV, radio, etc
  3. Cold chain: refrigeration, fans
  4. Access to clean water: pumping and purification
  5. Public services: public lighting, public water works, sanitation, public security, etc.
  6. Income generating activities: milling, welding, sewing, construction, light manufacturing, etc.
  7. Meet high-level energy needs, such as electric bike/tuktuk charging, cooking, residential cooling – maybe with intermittent grid, when available

Solution opportunities

  • Is holistic, carbon neutral, and technology-based
  • Enables electricity access without central planning or investment
  • Can be deployed and maintained by target customer
  • Creates new income-generating opportunities for target customer
  • Creates additional value streams for external stakeholders



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 - November 2018 to January 2019

  • Registered 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 round - September 2019

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

Competition tracks

A. Existing solutions

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

B. 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.

C. 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.

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