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2018 Clean Energy Challenge | What Design Can Do

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2018 Clean Energy Challenge | What Design Can Do

The What Design Can Do platform is calling for submissions for its 2018 Clean Energy Challenge, focused finding creative solutions for pressing energy issues in México City, São Paulo, Nairobi, Delhi and Amsterdam.


The Clean Energy Challenge 2018, an initiative by Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do together with IKEA Foundation, has been recently opened for entries focused finding creative solutions for pressing energy issues in México City, São Paulo, Nairobi, Delhi and Amsterdam.

Fossil fuels are the biggest cause of climate change and yet are still our primary source of energy. Cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and contribute to more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. This is why What Design Can Do is focussing its second Climate Action Challenge on urban energy issues. Together with IKEA Foundation and many local partners, they invite designers and creative entrepreneurs to rethink how we produce, distribute and use energy in our cities.

Everyone in the world should have access to enough energy to live a comfortable life, with access to clean water, nutritious food, shelter, healthcare, education and economic opportunities. Many in the world have this, but at the cost of the climate. We need to end our reliance on fossil fuels, while also ending energy poverty by providing access to reliable and affordable energy to everyone.

To achieve this, we need to generate more energy overall, and it needs to be clean and green — meaning renewable, passive, kinetic; anything but fossil fuels. We will also need to use energy more wisely: more efficiently, and with less waste. We have to think differently about how we source our energy and how we use it.

Clean and green energy comes from natural sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, plants, algae and geothermal heat. Unlike fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, clean and green energy is renewable, naturally replenished and has a much smaller impact on the environment. Clean energy is not just about transitioning to renewables; it’s also about rethinking the way we use energy. Saving energy and using energy more efficiently are key components of a post-fossil fuel future. We need creative ways to get as much useful power from as little energy as possible, wasting as little as we can. With this in mind, we are seeking design interventions that include a range of renewable, energy saving and energy efficient approaches.

This global competition calls on designers and creative entrepreneurs to rethink how we produce, distribute and use energy in metropolitan areas. The Challenge covers a period of a year, from the open call for submissions to the implementation of the winning ideas.

The Clean Energy Challenge 2018 includes design briefs for five cities:

In Amsterdam's city centre, packed with monuments and protected buildings, there is little space for clean energy infrastructure. Solar panels and other visible interventions are not permitted on historic buildings. Other infrastructure necessary for the transition, such as electricity substations and transformers, are too big to fit in the narrow and dense urban plan... Amsterdam’s metropolitan region must cater to a number of growing demands like housing, preserving natural and cultural heritage and redesigning the urban mobility system. Rather than thinking of these as separate systems, design has the power to approach these demands more holistically with multipurpose concepts, products, services, space... Consider how the energy transition needed can be combined with improved biodiversity, leisure, transport, water storage and agriculture...

México City, an enormous sprawling city, has struggled with waste for many years. With the closure of its largest landfill, and new initiatives to promote recycling and waste-to-energy solutions, México City is now in a position to be an example for the region. But behaviours and mindsets still have a long way to go. And there is lots that design can do here. Building on political momentum, they are calling on designers to use their creative problem-solving skills to imagine new narratives, services, products, spaces and systems to encourage cleaner and greener waste handling behaviours across México City...

In Delhi the need to build fast to serve rapidly swelling populations results in haphazard urban planning, with both commercial buildings and informal settlements mushrooming without much consideration for sustainability. Commercial and residential buildings account for most of Indian cities’ energy consumption, through heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, hot water heating, interior and exterior lighting, electrical power and appliances... Consider promoting or creating passive building practices to reduce energy use, such as natural ventilation and shade for cooling, and use of sunlight for light and heating. Look into creating a service for local energy generation (such as rooftop solar) that is affordable and easily maintained.

São Paulo’s infrastructure was not built to accommodate large numbers of private vehicles and trucks, and plans that cater to them will quite literally pave the way for further increases in car ownership, congestion, wasted fuel and emissions. Not to even mention more wasted hours sitting in traffic. Initiatives to extend and upgrade São Paulo’s public transport and freight network move slowly... That’s why they are calling on designers to find creative and radical solutions for more sustainable flows of people and goods through the city. Think about reducing the burden on transportation by making trips possible on foot or bicycle, or by encouraging ride-shares to reduce the number of cars on the streets. Look into making public transportation more attractive to use, so that the number of cars on the streets is reduced. Consider how to make certain journeys unnecessary, by encouraging remote working, or by better distributing services and facilities around the city.

Nairobi - Global food supply chains are highly energy intensive, and mostly reliant on fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions from the agri-food sector are over 20% of the world’s total. Rapid urbanisation is stretching Kenya’s food and agriculture systems to their limits, and Nairobi in particular is struggling to provide sustainable food and nutrition security for its residents. With a population set to reach 14 million by 2050, there will be many more mouths to feed. But the journey from farm to fork is currently not as smooth or green as it could be. From food production and distribution to refrigeration and preparation, designers can play a significant role in making sure future Nairobians are fed in a way that is good for both the human body and the planet.

When submitting a project, you must indicate which of the three tracks you want to participate in:

Student - The student track is for students, or recent graduates (no longer than 3 years), from universities, art and design schools that are ready to make their first step as creative professional.

(creative) Professional - The professional track is for creative professionals such as independent designers, design studio’s, ad-hoc teams and non-profit organisations, including NGO’s with a creative idea.

Start-up - The start-up track is for social impact start-ups with a product or prototype and (some) market traction looking to further build, validate and scale their business and find the best international market fit.

Submission requirments:

choose a short and snappy title for your project
describe your project in 140 characters
explain your project further in 250 words or less
select an attractive image to represent your project, this will be used as the main visual on the website and other communications. Make sure not to have the title of the project in the visual. Upload a representative image of your project (max 5 MB).
make a 2 minute pitch video to introduce your project (and yourself). This is optional.
you can upload a maximum of 6 more images to illustrate your concept.

If you are working on a project or product that is already in a further stage of development and is being implemented you can still join the challenge on the condition that your reason for entering is that you want to scale up.

The judging criteria:

Relevance - Your idea is relevant because you’ve gained local insights and collaborate with people and/or organizations already working on solutions.
Impact - Your idea has positive impact on people, places and systems and you propose clear metrics to measure this.
Feasibility - Your idea is feasible: technically, economically, politically, legally, socially, culturally and psychologically.
Scalability - Your idea may be developed for a specific location or community but has the potential to be scaled up to benefit the many.
Excitement - Your idea is exciting because it is new and creative and a great story to share.
Commitment - Your idea is developed by a well-balanced and highly committed team or you have assembled a group of people around you who can help develop your idea further.

After all entries have been submitted a special selection committee in each city will establish a list of nominations. Nominated teams will be announced for Amsterdam, Delhi, Nairobi, México City and São Paulo on 14 December 2018. The nominated teams get the opportunity to process the feedback and refine their ideas for re-submission on the 24th of January 2019. During the WDCD live event in Mexico City, 5 & 6 March 2019, an international jury will select and announce the winning projects of the Clean Energy Challenge in the categories student, professional and start-up. All winning teams will receive a tailor made Impact Development Program to further develop their ideas and prototypes. The winning projects get a chance to work toward implementation and go-to market of their ideas and a chance to present their projects during the WDCD live event in Amsterdam.

There is no entry fees to participate!

It's free to enter!


Clean Energy Challenge 2018 is open to all designers and creative entrepreneurs.


There will be separate tracks and awards for students, professionals and start-ups.

Winners will receive funding up to €10.000 to develop their idea.
Winning teams will get a tailor made development programme aimed at making the winning ideas investment ready.
All winning projects will be published on WDCD’s platforms, media channels and shared in press releases.
All winning teams have a chance to present their idea during the WDCD Live event in Amsterdam.

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