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Solstice wins MIT Clean Energy Prize with efficient metering for developing nations

Technology will give Nigerian households greater control over energy consumption.
Solstice Energy Solutions co-founders Ugwem Eneyo (left) and Cole Stites-Clayton (center) stand with Kristian Bodek of National Grid.
Solstice Energy Solutions co-founders Ugwem Eneyo (left) and Cole Stites-Clayton (center) stand with Kristian Bodek of National Grid.
Photo: Nadia Boukhetaia

Solstice Energy Solutions won the MIT Clean Energy Prize April 14 for its plan to bring an energy-metering program to Nigerian households, which currently rely on manually operated diesel generators when the country’s power grid fails. Co-founder Ugwem Eneyo grew up in Nigeria, and the cause is personal.

“As a middle child, I remember having to go to my backyard to turn on a generator multiple times a day,” she told the panel. “I remember the sound of those generators whirring.”

To avoid this inconvenience, many households prefer to simply let generators run, with little grasp of the end cost or resulting pollution. Many households spend up to $3,000 each month, Eneyo said.

Solstice, founded at Stanford University, plans to sell Shyft, a smart meter and transfer switch hybrid that allows users to meter, monitor, and control their power sources from a mobile app. Shyft would replace the manual changeover switches used by so many households. Unlike their competitors, the product isn’t simply an automatic transfer switch, which automatically clicks on when the grid fails. Instead, users can choose when to start up their generator, so they can reduce costs wherever possible. Eneyo estimates that users will decrease their energy costs by up to 30 percent.

“Think of it as a Fitbit for energy consumption,” she said.

Eneyo and her team will use the $100,000 prize money to launch a beta phase and begin selling the product next year.

MIT's Infinite Cooling won $60,000 for its plan to reduce water consumption at power plants, which are the largest consumers of freshwater in the United States. The startup aims to use electric fields to capture and reintroduce water to power plant cooling systems, thereby conserving and reducing power companies’ water costs.

Two remaining finalists were awarded $20,000 apiece. Joro, with a team of students from Harvard University and MIT, is a technology platform that enables users to track their carbon impact in real time through their smartphones, making choices to save money and reduce emissions. The startup aims to create an incentive-driven social network of like-minded users who can measure their output against friends. Flux Technologies, based at the University of California at Berkeley, focuses on efficient hydrogen and natural gas purification using advanced composite membranes.

The four finalists were culled from 17 semifinalists. In its 10th year, the MIT Clean Energy Prize is the nation’s oldest and largest clean energy entrepreneurship competition.

Judges included National Grid’s Kristian Bodek, GE Ventures’ Daniel Hullah, MassCEC’s Stephen Pike, The Engine’s Katie Rae, and Greentown Labs' Emily Reichert. The event was held at the MIT Media Lab.

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