The EDF Pulse awards were handed out to the project leaders on 30 April 2014. Each one of them contributed, in their own way, to solving challenges related to electricity all over the world through innovation. It was an inspiring event in many respects.
The EDF Pulse prize-giving ceremony was the closing event of the first edition of the awards. It was also an occasion to celebrate the distinctive vision of progress that EDF is promoting through the Pulse project – progress that should be shared with as many people as possible. The ceremony brought together a rich and diverse innovation community keen to “be part of great adventures,” in the words of EDF Group CEO Henri Proglio. And this was exactly what it was about.
The projects that were honoured were competing in one of three categories: “Smart living” (divided into three further sub-categories: Health, Mobility and Housing), “Science and electricity” and “Access to electricity”. The awards marked the end of a journey that began several months earlier with the selection of 100 projects from all over the world by international sensors. A jury made up of international figures then selected the winning projects in the “Science and electricity” and “Access to electricity” categories, while projects in the “Smart living” category were put to the online vote. Over 260,000 people voted – an impressive figure that demonstrates the strong appeal of innovation among the general public.
Helping paraplegics walk again and improving city life
Voters singled out projects that are both surprising and likely to make rapid improvement to users’ everyday lives. The first winner of the “Smart living” category made his way onto the stage while an animated video about his company was played. Alexandre Boulanger won the EDF Pulse Health award for his exoskeleton, Wandercraft. It is a set of robotic legs that recreates natural walking, allowing handicapped people to walk again without even the need for crutches. “Exoskeletons represent revolutionary progress for people with reduced mobility,” declared young Boulanger, just 25 but not at all fazed by the occasion. “They will restore social links thanks to an action as simple as standing up to face other people.”
A very tall young man was next to take the stage: Rando Pikner from Estonia – a country renowned for its flair for innovation – who stood a clear head above everyone else. With great enthusiasm, he introduced Stigo, the folding electric scooter he designed, and which won the Mobility award. The light, eco-friendly cycle promises greener and more versatile urban transport. “Every time we present our electric scooter, we get the same reactions: it’s smart, useful – and cool!” enthused Pikner.
Finally it was the turn of Echy, the project led by Florent Longa and Stéphanie Remy, to be applauded by the audience. The winner of the Housing prize, Echy brings natural light into windowless rooms thanks to solar panels that capture light and reflective cables that carry it inside. It has enormous innovation potential because it can be used on “all buildings in use during the day, such as offices, hospitals and schools,” explained the two entrepreneurs. Their tone was extremely enthusiastic, and their ambitions are high: Echy’s goal is to restore light to city-dwellers and save energy at the same time.
When innovation and progress go hand in hand
The EDF Pulse international jury selected three winning projects. In the “Science and electricity” category, Professor Renaud Bouchet won the award for “Siel”, a research project to design an electric car battery. The presentation video explained the process, which solves a number of problems posed by current batteries: the result is lighter, cheaper, more energy efficient and less susceptible to battery fire. It lets us envisage much more efficient electric cars in future. According to Bouchet, the ultimate aim of his work is as much social as it is environmental: “Electric vehicles have to be democratic and cheap if they are to let our cities breathe.”
The prize-giving ended with the announcement of the two joint winners in the “Access to electricity” category. Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, represented by Mpilo Mbambisa, is lighting South Africa’s townships with LEDs to make the streets safer and save electricity. The other project, led by the Indian organization TERI and represented by Sunhil Dhingra, is a biomass gasifier that optimizes use of organic waste, counters the power cuts that are frequent in India, and allows local people to keep working and maintain a steady income. “Electricity is synonymous with life on earth. Without it, life is extremely hard,” noted Henri Proglio as he congratulated the two winners. Visibly delighted to receive the honour, the two men warmly thanked all members of the jury. Sunhil Dhingra pointed out the importance of access to electricity, which is a major challenge to supporting population development. Mpilo Mbambisa stressed: “This award could not have come at a better time for us, as our country celebrates 20 years of democracy.”
The EDF Pulse awards implicitly address some of the biggest challenges of our time: the improvement of everyday life; electricity storage, which is a key issue for the development of intermittent renewable energy; and innovation in democratized access to electricity, which is an essential driver of development. Each in their own way, the projects led by the entrepreneurs who gathered around Henri Proglio for a “family” photo demonstrate that innovation and progress can go hand in hand. And the delight on the faces of these purveyors of progress on stage promises that the second edition of the awards will be just as inspiring.