Growing the solar sector on fossil fuel’s traditional turf is a productive way of mainstreaming renewable energy. The United Arab Emirates’ notable participant is the Zayed Future Energy Prize, named in honor of past president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who received the World Wildlife Federation’s Golden Panda in 1995; Zayed passed on in 2004 as an esteemed conservationist invested in protecting local species and the environment-at-large.
The Zayed Prize’s selection committee is similarly local and global, comprised of UAE power players, executives from multinationals like General Electric, directors of institutions like the United Nations Foundation and the International Renewable Energy Association, as well as academics from Columbia University to Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics. In other words, today’s seasoned energy industry pros on the lookout for tomorrow’s sustainable energy solutions.
The committee’s finalists this year for Zayed’s $4 million Prize thankfully contains a few solar energy standouts, the United States’ panel manufacturing heavyweight First Solar in the Large Corporation category. The international solar light charity SolarAid, founded by Jeremy Leggett, is in good shape in the Non-Profit Organizations category, where it is joined by solar bottle pioneer Liter of Light, which has turned recycled plastic soda containers into DIY lightbulbs from Argentina to Zambia.
Meanwhile, the Small and Medium Enterpise category includes M-Kopa, Africa’s pay-as-you-go solar servicer for off-grid customers. All told, from well-funded corporations to modest innovators, it’s a solid swath of a solar sector gaining strength as the century proceeds.
Winners in these and other categories, including Global High Schools and Zayed’s Lifetime Achievement award, will be announced at a January 19 ceremony during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Last year’s winners include non-profit Frauenhofer ISE, Europe’s largest solar energy research institute, and Malawi’s Nkhata Bay School Authority, a solar technology and installation learning center.
Let’s hope this year’s photovoltaic competitors for the Zayed Prize have their day.