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IEEE Volunteers Growing Food and Opportunities in Nicaragua

Joint-funding program fuels partnership in HAC and EDS

IEEE volunteers worked together to benefit a local community and further their own skills by joining the humanitarian technology project, Automated and Sustainable Drip Irrigation System in Rural Nicaragua. As part of the new joint-funding project model, IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT) and IEEE Electron Devices Society (EDS) provided co-funding to maximize project impact.

The local community benefited from job creation and fruit harvesting while IEEE volunteers developed technical and professional skills and networked within IEEE. IEEE SIGHT and EDS volunteers and local IEEE members and student members formed the project team.

“Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Many rural areas usually have problems with access to water, energy, job, and business opportunities. We decided to provide access to water to improve agricultural practices for the community and the quality of living. Our approach would also help the community create a sustainable business idea through the use of appropriate technology including a photovoltaic system, electronic sensors, weather station, and automated water pumping system,” says Mario Aleman, IEEE EDS and SIGHT volunteer from Nicaragua who served on the project team.

The IEEE volunteers in Nicaragua partnered with La Paz Carazo community to install the efficient water irrigation system. The project team realized that sustainable irrigation through the community center will spur additional community empowerment, micro-enterprise business opportunities, and a unique educational model.

When considering a project proposal for funding, IEEE SIGHT measures it against three pillars:

  1. The feasibility and sustainability of the technology being used,
  2. The needs of the local community, and
  3. The involvement of local partners.

“Everything needs to be relevant to local communities and respect the culture. This bottom-up approach drives the innovation cycle and makes the project scalable,” says Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan, 2020 IEEE SIGHT Chair and 2021 IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee (HAC) Chair.

For the Nicaragua project, the team installed a water irrigation system embedded with a low-power consumption electronic micro-controller to allow efficient drip irrigation and assist growing of agricultural crops during periods of inadequate rainfall. The sustainable irrigation solution will enable community members to create more economic opportunities for local residents. Additionally, the extra access to electricity through a solar-powered system will support lighting and a computer or two to increase the hours for learning and the breadth of educational opportunities.

“EDS has a strong commitment to humanitarian and educational projects. Our goal is to live up to our vision of ‘Promoting excellence in the field of electron devices for the benefit of humanity.’ This project encompasses the three main areas that we seek to include in our projects; Education/Entrepreneurship/Energy while providing EDS members an opportunity to use their technical skills for the benefit of society,” says Fernando Guarin, EDS Past President.

“The creation of an automated and sustainable drip irrigation system was an opportunity to help others as well as work in a multidisciplinary experience with engineering students and professionals from different backgrounds including agronomy, computing, and electrical engineering. This helped us grow professionally,” says Aleman.

Student members served as leaders and co-leaders and participated in the coding and design of the risk system, agricultural analysis, and installation of the photovoltaic system.

“These projects provide opportunities for students and young professionals to gain real-world experience. It allows them to put their technical skills into action outside of the classroom and see the different areas of a project. It also helps them grow other skills, like communication,” says Veeraraghavan.

“Our volunteers who implemented this project have the opportunity to create a scientific article that can be presented at IEEE conferences such as the Latin American Electron Devices Conference (LAEDC),” says Aleman.

The team in Nicaragua plans to scale and replicate their project in underserved areas.

“This project constituted EDS’s first partnership with SIGHT. It enabled the funds from EDS and SIGHT to go farther and make a greater impact,” says Guarin.

In 2020, EDS granted US$25,000 to IEEE HAC/SIGHT in order to replicate the joint-funding model with other projects.

“We are looking to allocate a similar amount in 2021 and will be having a call for joint proposals in the near future,” says Guarin.

Joint-Funding Partnerships

“IEEE SIGHT is thankful to Society and Council leaders who are helping us engage and deliver the mission of IEEE. Societies and Councils are key. Their members have specific technical knowledge. These partnerships are a key global vision and strategic goal under my leadership for HAC/SIGHT. The programs provide a win-win model. Societies and Councils can engage members across the spectrum of their membership. Students get to develop skills and network within IEEE while Senior Members can mentor and share their expertise with the new generation of engineers. They are crafting a better future for their Society/Council,” says Veeraraghavan.

In 2019 and 2020, IEEE HAC/SIGHT rolled out joint partnerships with EDS, Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S), Antennas and Propagation Society (AP-S), and Industry Applications Society (IAS). Several workshops were held to train Society members.

“One example was the workshop and HAC/SIGHT panel at the IEEE PowerAfrica Conference in Nigeria which inspired and connected many society volunteers in Africa to take part in Humanitarian technology activities,” says Veeraraghavan.

IEEE HAC/SIGHT plan to expand the joint partnerships initiative with additional Societies.

“Recently, we had discussions with IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS), Photonics Society, Power and Energy Society (PES), AP-S, MTT-S, and EDS. We can’t wait to see the outcome of these efforts by the end of 2021,” says Veeraraghavan.

“We encourage other IEEE members to carry out community projects and enjoy the passion to give back and work together,” says Aleman.

To find out more about IEEE HAC/SIGHT funding opportunities, visit the HAC website. To request information about potential avenues for your Society to collaborate with IEEE HAC/SIGHT please write to

2019 – 2020 SIGHT chair Sampath Veeraraghavan along with PowerAfrica organizing team visiting a local power station in Abuja, Nigeria in August 2019

No One Left Behind: Connectivity for All

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

David Witkowski, Chair of IEEE Future Networks Initiative’s (FNI) Deployment Working Group, referenced this quote while speaking about his group’s mission to improve the deployment of cellular technology. “Even in Silicon Valley, not everyone is connected. In San Jose, 10 percent of the population does not have broadband at home,” says Witkowski.

COVID-19 brought the digital divide into the spotlight. In August, students in underserved areas of California sat outside of a Taco Bell to use its public Wi-Fi. Use of telehealth services is encouraged as a way to limit possible exposure, but what about patients who don’t have an internet connection at home?

FNI is addressing these challenges with its mission to develop and deploy 5G and beyond.

Connecting the Unconnected (and Under-connected)

FNI’s Connecting the Unconnected (CTU) Working Group strives to make connectivity for all a fundamental priority like clean water and electricity. However, it’s not just about the unconnected, it’s also about the under-connected.

“More people get left behind with each new generation of mobile technology,” says Sudhir Dixit, CTU Chair. “Over 50 percent of subscribers worldwide are still connected to 2G. As we release new generations of cellular technology, we need to take everybody along. IEEE is about advancing technology for humanity. That’s what we’re doing.”

So far, the CTU working group has produced a white paper to be included in the FNI’s International Network Generations Roadmap project (INGR). The INGR consists of 15 working groups that look 10 years into the future of a specific technical or topical area and then work backwards to determine how the technology needs to evolve and what roadblocks industry will face at three- and five-year timeframes.

As part of INGR, FNI’s Energy Efficiency working group released its first white paper. This group is also looking into under-connected populations and developed a concept it calls the “5G Equality Gap.” The group explains in its white paper, “the 5G Equality Gap (5GEqG) is a hypothetical representation of the socioeconomic disparity between those that will be able to adapt their infrastructure and end use cases to unanticipated underperformance due to energy-limited (5GEG) and/or economically-limited (5GEcG) factors, and those that will not have the resources to be flexible enough to do so.”

The Energy Efficiency working group aims to help industry and government understand the impact of energy on the diversity of 5G rollouts.

Another effort to improve connectivity is the CTU working group’s CTU Challenge competition. This open competition seeks solutions to important use-cases with local relevance where people, businesses, or institutions do not have easy access to broadband. 

The IEEE New Initiatives Committee (NIC) funded the competition which will highlight initiatives happening around the world. CTU will survey the initiatives to determine their key objectives, such as motivation, target population, use cases, business models, key success indicators, and why and how they are funded. Then, they will pick some of the best projects that deploy solutions with real impact.

The goals of the initial stage of the challenge are to:

  • Raise awareness of IEEE’s efforts in CTU;
  • Convene experts from initiatives around the world on a single platform to discuss what needs to be done, share best practices, and collaborate on global projects; and
  • Help the winner take their project further by providing expert support from IEEE.

CTU is planning to extend the challenge and encourage companies, universities, and local groups to participate.

Improve Deployment

In addition to CTU, FNI has other groups working toward improving connectivity for all, such as INGR’s Deployment Working Group, chaired by David Witkowski.

When Witkowski attended the IEEE 5G World Forum in Santa Clara, he noticed that there was little discussion about real-world deployment challenges.

“There was a presumption that deployment would happen, but no in-depth discussion about it. Successful deployment is often a complex process, from securing local government approvals, to protecting the technology from the elements, weather, and animals. It’s a challenge. Even if the technology is well designed, it’s not helpful unless we can deploy it,” says Witkowski.

Through the Deployment Working Group, which recently published its own white paper and started a podcast series, Witkowski is raising awareness of these challenges with both engineers and governments.

“Traditionally, IEEE is good at helping engineers talk to engineers. We need to connect engineers with politicians and become a resource for local governments and even the general public. These conversations are crucial because without a permit from local government, nothing can be deployed,” says Witkowski.

Witkowski shared this critical information during the 2019 IEEE Future Networks Workshop on Digital Inclusion. “We discussed the day-to-day politics of deployment. Some cities have 130-page guidelines for how cellular sites must be designed and built. IEEE members have great ideas, but we’re working to educate engineers about what a city will or won’t allow, and to explain why. It provides a grounded reality that is often eye-opening for members,” says Witkowski. 

“For example, engineers who design semiconductors need to know that energy efficiency is critical because chips that run hot may cause a base station vendor to design equipment that requires a cooling fan – but most cities do not allow active cooling. So, engineers need to design efficient semiconductors. If this is communicated to project managers early in the process, it can save time and cost and avoid wasted effort and failed products. We are also having conversations with local governments to explain that if they want 5G in their city, they need to understand what is – and what is not – practical from an engineering perspective. I’ve actually been in a meeting with a city where I was asked if cellular sites and antennas could be located underground! Obviously, this isn’t possible, so sometimes we have to ask that they adjust their requirements,” says Witkowski.

In his role as executive director of the Wireless Communications Initiative (WCI) at Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a regional non-profit think tank, Witkowski does similar work promoting the advancement and deployment of cellular technology in the Northern California region.

“The WCI was launched in the early days of cellular because sites weren’t being deployed fast enough and it was felt that Silicon Valley should have the best wireless networks in the world. So, we convened the public and private sector to break down barriers between the wireless industry and our local governments. We humanized the process by putting faces to the names on each side, which helped them to better understand each other’s needs and concerns and work toward a mutual solution. This allowed Silicon Valley to move forward and improve our region’s economic development,” says Witkowski.

“When I speak at conferences about the Joint Venture model, I always get requests to implement it in other regions or to scale it nationally. That’s what we’re doing through IEEE, and the Deployment Working Group is the model. We are convening, sharing information and tools, and sharing best practices so cities around the world can implement them,” says Witkowski.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the shelter-in-place orders implemented to slow the spread of infection, quickly made people aware of their lack of connectivity at home – and the problems that presents. When the shelter-in-place orders closed schools in California, some students were unable to attend their online classes, and schools turned to Joint Venture Silicon Valley for help.

“We started talking to carriers about augmenting coverage in residential areas. We advised the schools and districts to buy and distribute hotspots – which unfortunately were unavailable at the time, so the districts bought smartphones and showed the students how to use them as hotspots. We encouraged carriers to remove data caps and provide discounted SIM card plans to schools and districts. We asked people to donate Chromebooks, collected them, and turned the donations over to schools and districts for refurbishing and distribution. Hotspots were a good solution given the circumstances and the need to move quickly. Now we’re looking at how to build networks that will continue to serve students after the pandemic,” says Witkowski.

Bringing down costs is critical to large-scale deployment and adoption. CTU is taking on that challenge by sharing best practices and standards.

“If we convene all initiatives on a single forum, different countries and projects can share their strategies. We can create a critical mass and bring down cost,” says Dixit.

Dixit notes that there are additional challenges, “People in under-connected areas may not be technically literate. Not all teachers are familiar with Zoom, WebEx, and computers. We need to create highly-secure systems that are both easy to use and affordable.  Additionally, educational content is not always available in digital forms and in all languages. We need to resolve this.”

“We always knew digital inclusion was an issue, but COVID-19 brought those challenges into focus and gave them urgency. Now we have more opportunities to educate leaders and show them the value of building robust communication networks. Some school districts are now saying that providing broadband to students may need to be part of education infrastructure, with direct financial investment such as teachers, books, and classrooms. Some are saying that if they can’t rely on the private sector, they’ll have to do it themselves. It’s a complex problem legally, economically, and technologically,” says Witkowski.

Witkowski believes that IEEE members can help solve these issues by getting involved in the local community. “Our members are often brilliant engineers with deep experience, and local governments need that type of expertise and access to technical resources. IEEE members can volunteer time at local schools, speak at council meetings, or serve on citizens’ commissions. A better-connected population is going to be more educated and productive, and that’s good for everyone.”

Visit the FNI website to learn more about the CTU and Deployment Working Groups.

COVID-19 Hub: Your IEEE Resources

As we weather the COVID-19 pandemic together, check the IEEE COVID-19 Resource Hub for updates about IEEE members developing technologies to fight the virus, the resources available to you from across IEEE, coping strategies from engineers around the world, and opportunities to get involved in the fight.

Here are a few examples of IEEE Society members working on solutions to COVID-19 issues:

Do You Think You Have COVID-19 Symptoms? Find Out with This App featuring IEEE Senior Member CRS Kumar, who is a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Computer Society.

5 Tips From Education Experts on Effective Remote Instruction features a virtual conference jointly held by the IEEE Education Society and IEEE Educational Activities.

Doctors Can Track Patients’ COVID-19 Symptoms with This App features João Sanches and Hugo Silva who are officers in the IEEE Portugal Section’s IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Chapter

IEEE Roboticists Use 3D Printers to Make PPE for Healthcare Workers featuring Kaspar lthoefer who is a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.

Meet COBO, a COVID-19 Self-Assessment Chatbot featuring Aisha Nazia Nasir Mayin who is the content marketing chair for the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society.

open access

IEEE Accepting Articles for Open Access Journals

open accessIEEE is accepting paper submissions for its gold fully open access journals spanning a wide range of technologies including telecommunications, biomedical engineering, automotive technology, signal processing, industrial applications, power and energy, and more.

These journals target a rapid publishing schedule and are fully compliant with funder mandates, including Plan S as all articles will be published under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY) enabling authors to retain copyright.

The open access journals follow IEEE’s established high standard of peer review, providing fully open access publications for high-quality, cutting-edge scientific and technical content accessible to researchers around the globe. Independent editorial boards are led by an accomplished expert as editor-in-chief. The call for submissions presents a unique opportunity for authors to benefit from the visibility each journal’s launch will generate and their published papers will be exposed to more than 5 million unique monthly users of the IEEE Xplore® Digital Library.

IEEE’s gold fully open access journals include:

  • IEEE Open Journal of Antennas and Propagation
  • IEEE Open Journal of Circuits and Systems
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Communications Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Computer Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology
  • IEEE Open Journal of Industry Applications
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Industrial Electronics Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems
  • IEEE Open Journal of Nanotechnology
  • IEEE Open Journal of Power Electronics
  • IEEE Open Journal of Signal Processing
  • IEEE Open Journal of Solid-State Circuits
  • IEEE Open Journal of Vehicular Technology
  • IEEE Journal of the Electron Devices Society
  • IEEE Journal of Exploratory Solid-State Computational Devices and Circuits
  • IEEE Photonics Journal
  • IEEE Open Access Journal of Power and Energy
  • IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
  • IEEE Transactions on Quantum Engineering

Coming Soon

  • IEEE Open Journal of Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control
  • IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
  • IEEE Journal of Microwaves

The Article Processing Charge (APC) is US$1750 with discounts or special offers available for IEEE and IEEE Society members. For more information on of IEEE’s gold fully open access journals, editorial boards, submission dates, and links to submit a paper, please visit

IEEE Access, IEEE’s broad scope open access journal, is also accepting papers for six discipline-specific Sections aligned with the following technical communities: IEEE Broadcast Technology Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Reliability Society, IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, and IEEE Power & Energy Society. Additional discipline-specific Sections will be coming in the coming months.

To learn more about the IEEE Access Sections, please visit:

The Value in Continuing Professional Education

Surveys of IEEE members regularly show that continuing professional education is one of the main reasons they join IEEE. IEEE members believe that continuing professional education should be a benefit of IEEE membership. 

Investing in lifelong learning allows individuals to learn about new and upcoming technical and career-focused topics that help them further develop their skills after they have entered the workforce. A university degree alone no longer provides all of the knowledge an engineer needs throughout their entire career. It is essential that technical professionals continue to grow in their knowledge and skills in order to achieve career advancement.

Anis Ben Arfi served as the general chair for the 2020 IEEE Rising Stars Conference. Currently, he volunteers with IEEE Ottawa Section and chairs the IEEE Canada Humanitarian Initiatives Committee. Arfi recently graduated and started working with radio transmitter architectures. He used the IEEE Learning Network (ILN), an online platform that offers educational content from across IEEE, to search for online courses to better understand Radio Frequency Transmitters’ performance. 

“At my workplace, creativity and innovation are highly encouraged. I consider that regular literature reviews are a good way to stay current with the new inventions and proposed technical solutions,” stated Arfi. “In fact, I always investigate new methodologies and techniques and propose them to my team. ILN is a great resource for research findings and informative professional development lectures. The educational material on ILN  provides valuable content that I know will have a positive impact in the advancement of my career.”  

After completing a course from IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society (SSCS), Arfi saw the value in the educational material available and joined SSCS.

Other ILN users also found that they were able to find content that not only helped them earn continuing education units (CEUs) or professional development hours (PDHs) for their professional licenses, but helped them learn about topics that were of interest to them personally. 

In a recent survey of ILN users, one respondent wrote, “I need to complete continuing education courses to maintain my professional engineering license and want to use this opportunity to enhance my knowledge in engineering that can apply to my work or to keep abreast of new developments. The courses I most recently took provided a good overview of topics that are relevant to the background knowledge I think is necessary to keep up with technological changes.”

While many professionals may have reached the end of their formal education, learning never stops. A majority of ILN users say that they purchased a course to help them learn a new skill or topic or refresh their knowledge. Over 65% of survey respondents said that they plan to apply the skills they learned through the continuing education courses to their current positions. 

What is the IEEE Learning Network (ILN)?

With hundreds of courses offered from 19 course providers – and more added all the time – ILN offers the latest in continuing education for engineers and technology professionals who want to advance professionally, refresh skills, or stay up-to-date with the latest trends.

In the past, finding all of the continuing education offered by IEEE required an individual to search more than 60 different websites, platforms, and portals. Members and volunteers have shared their desire for a centralized site for educational offerings. 

ILN provides users the ability to: 

  • Search through IEEE’s hundreds of online educational offerings
  • Bookmark a place within a course and return to it later
  • Access a transcript of learning in progress and completed
  • Learn what’s new in the world of continuing education at IEEE
  • Earn digital certificates immediately, then view and print on-demand
  • Complete dynamic assessments to test knowledge of course content
  • Participate in surveys/evaluations to provide feedback and recommendations for improvement 

Anyone can access ILN and search the catalog of course offerings, which offers educational content on a variety of topics such as engineering, technology and more. Visit to learn more. 

Are you an active IEEE member? Check out IEEE Educational Activities weekly selection of courses that you can purchase for US$10 each.

IEEE Dataport™ Usage Exceeds Expectations in 2019

IEEE is pleased to share another update on the status and success of IEEE DataPort™, the valuable and easy-to-use IEEE data platform that provides all IEEE members with an opportunity to significantly enhance their research efforts.

The usage of IEEE DataPort exceeded our goals and expectations for 2019 and IEEE DataPort now has over 200,000 unique users and hosts over 1000 valuable datasets from researchers around the globe.  Based on the user feedback we have received, it is clear that this new member benefit is providing value for many reasons:

  • Datasets up to 2TB are accepted
  • All users can upload and store datasets for free
  • Datasets will be stored indefinitely
  • Each dataset receives a unique DOI
  • Datasets are citable enabling users to secure more citations for their research
  • Over 90 IEEE journals, including the new IEEE Gold Open Access Journals, are integrated with IEEE DataPort so authors can easily upload their data to IEEE
  • DataPort during the article submission process and link the data to their article
  • Users appreciate the global exposure received for their datasets on IEEE DataPort.

If you are not among the 200,000 IEEE DataPort users today, please go to to search for datasets and/or to upload your own valuable datasets.  All users are able to store datasets, make datasets accessible to others, manage their research data, and access other researcher’s datasets.  Remember, your contributions of datasets are citable, just like a paper.

Thank you to all who are already utilizing IEEE DataPort!  All members are encouraged to leverage this new member benefit to enhance your research efforts.  As an IEEE member, you are entitled to a FREE automatic subscription to IEEE DataPort, which provides you with access to all IEEE DataPort datasets.  Click here now to login to IEEE DataPort and receive a free subscription (use your IEEE account credentials).

If you have further questions, feel free to reach out to the IEEE DataPort team at any time by visiting or sending an email to

Ten on Tech: Spotlight on Celia Desmond

What are you currently reading?

I usually read 2-3 books in parallel. At the moment I am reading a novel by John Grisham, one by Ann Perry and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime which gives good insight into growing up poor in South Africa. My favourite authors are Wilbur Smith, especially the Courtney series, Ann Perry and James Patterson.

What invention has inspired you the most?

As much as I sit every day glued to a computer of some sort, I do not find the computer itself inspiring. However, the fact that it is possible to communicate, at a reasonable price, with people anywhere in the world, and carry on meaningful discussions, is very inspiring.

What movies or live shows have you enjoyed the most in recent years? 

Come From Away is a great live show. The Downton Abbey movie is one recent film that I enjoyed.

What about current technology worries you?

While computers, internet and smart phones are marvelous and are now essential tools, they are too often replacing human to human contact. Real-time face-to-face contact goes to the core of human beings. I hope we will not lose this.

Also the technical and ethical issues we are facing with automation – driverless cars, etc. – need optimal solutions to problems which probably have no totally correct answer. This is concerning.

What in recent years has surprised you the most?

The fact that most people – all ages, all nationalities, all diverse types of people – seem to be willing to be connected, especially with work, at all hours and all days.

What was the best advice anyone has given you?

Don’t try to solve world hunger. Stick to more direct problems.

What has been or is your favorite equation or concept in engineering, and why?

Although it has been some years since I have been able to use it, I have loved queuing theory. I was lucky enough at one point to have a job working with this, calculating traffic on multi-point data lines, and it was a very satisfying experience.

What have been important life lessons for you that you might be able to share with us?  

Look for the positive in people. There are so many capable and competent people, and it is very impressive what they can do. 

How many unread emails are in your inbox?

I managed to reduce this to 36 today! Isn’t it great to sit in a plane sometimes?!

What should IEEE be (more) involved in?  

Providing value to the people who use technology – not just those who invent, design and build it. This includes not only contact with industries in almost every area today, but also highlighting to the general public the value that engineers bring to the world. When more people understand that they can do what they do today mainly because of engineers, we’ll be on the right track.


IEEE Empower a Billion Lives Receives Award For Combating Energy Poverty

The IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) was a 2019 recipient of the Power of A Summit Award for the Empower a Billion Lives (EBL) humanitarian program. The Award is the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) highest honor for associations that go above and beyond their everyday mission to undertake initiatives that benefit the world. EBL is an influential humanitarian program imagined to enthuse volunteers and engage visionary entrepreneurs to address a global crisis – energy poverty.  

Energy poverty is a lack of access to modern energy services. Such gateways drive health, education, and economic opportunity. Accessibility to abundant and affordable energy is essential to further human development and care. Launched in 2018 as a biennial event, EBL leverages the deep technical and business expertise of IEEE and its many partners to draw new talent and thinking into the energy access sector.

A family in Sengerema, Tanzania. Taken by EBL Team Solaris – a regional round team winner.

EBL teams around the world develop energy access solutions for communities with average incomes of lower than US$2 per day. The solutions must be scalable, regionally relevant, holistic, and leverage 21st-century technologies with exponentially declining prices. 

PELS President Frede Blaabjerg stated, “many of these solutions are addressing critical humanitarian challenges that good technology solutions can meaningfully solve. Taking these technical and business solutions to market so that economically viable models can be developed to address those living in energy poverty is at the heart of a new brand of sustainable entrepreneurship where we can have a big sustainable impact.”

Global Steering Chair, Deepak Divan found that “the teams have shown important and viable solutions based on a foundation of power electronics technology that can have a big impact, some of the technology solutions pose technology challenges that have not been fully addressed.” 

Starting with 475 registered teams, 82 teams progressed to compete in one of five regional rounds held in Pacific Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas where 23 teams were selected to field-test their solutions and compete in the Global Final.  

The winners presented their solutions at the PELS Energy Access Workshop, hosted by the IEEE Energy Conversion Congress Exposition, a workshop dedicated to bringing together the Energy Access Community that is rising out of the efforts of initiatives like EBL.

Mike Kelly, PELS Executive Director adds that “programs like PELS-EBL foster an opportunity for our volunteers, members, and staff to make a meaningful, lasting, and altruistic impact on the quality of life of others on a truly global scale. This is the essence of the mission of IEEE: to foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. The goal was not only to drive new technologies but also present sustainable political and business model components to aggregate efforts and “leap-frog” innovation in renewable and distributed energy”.

Regional winning teams received a total of US$225,000 and additional prizes were awarded to the following teams:

  • Grand Prize (US$100,000) went to SoULS Initiative, IIT Bombay for their solution; Solar Urja through Localization for Sustainability
  • Centralized Emergent Prize (US$30,000) went to Entrepreneurs du Monde and Okra, of France and Cambodia for their solution to support people’s own entrepreneurial ventures and giving them access to products that can bring significant health, economic and environmental benefits.
  • Decentralized Emergent Prize (US$30,000) went to SolarWorX, of Germany and Tanzania for designing and manufacturing the next generation of solar pay-as-you-go solutions sold on a B2B basis
  • Centralized Commercial Prize US$30,000 went to Havenill Synergy of Nigeria for using solar energy to generate clean, safe, cost-effective and sustainable electricity in rural and urban Nigeria.
  • The Best Student Team Prize (US$20,000) went to Reeddi, of Canada and Nigeria for sustainably provides clean energy and allied innovations at a price point that individuals and businesses operating in energy-poor regions of the world can afford.
  • An additional prize was awarded to Xpower, of the US and Rwanda for The Best Base of the Pyramid Solution for designing, building, and operating next generation solar microgrids for rural electrification. Combining mains AC and low voltage DC, these grids are optimized for cost, yet designed to scale with users’ needs over time.
  • Two teams received an honorable mention: Connex Solar, of Scotland and Rwanda (previously Smart-Grids Lab), for developing plug-and-play smart DC network controllers for a bottom-up electrification in the Developing World; and, Simusolar, of Tanzania for providing farmers and fishers with the IoT-enabled tools they need to improve productivity and income.

To see the solutions of all the teams competing in the Global Final go to

The next round of IEEE PELS EBL will begin in 2021. To find out more about the overall competition, go to and to support the efforts and lend your name to the growing Energy Access Community dedicated to Empowering a Billion Lives, visit

The competition was conceptualized by PELS and its volunteers and staff, with strong support from many regional sponsors and for the Global Final the sponsors include: Kehua Technologies, On Semiconductors, Southern Company, Vicor, Sungrow Technology, Texas Instruments and partners, The Center for Distributed Energy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the IEEE Foundation. 

Learn more about EBL in this short video

Ten on Tech: Spotlight on Lisa Lazareck-Asunta

Dr. Lisa Lazareck-Asunta is a 20-year Senior Member of the IEEE and has been an elected and appointed IEEE volunteer since 2003. She is currently the Chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) Committee, and has held many IEEE leadership positions, including roles in the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, IEEE Technical Activities Board Strategic Planning Committee (TAB SPC), and IEEE Young Professionals Committee.

Lisa has multiple degrees in electrical engineering: a BSc and MSc from the University of Manitoba, Canada; and a PhD (or DPhil) from the University of Oxford, UK. Her academic expertise is in biomedical signal processing and includes investigating the Obstructive Sleep Apnea disorder by the processing of oxygen saturation signals for diagnostic purposes. Following her PhD, she worked for 6.5 years at the Wellcome Trust, UK – specializing in charitable grant funding and public engagement with science and engineering. Lisa still enjoys filming for the Discovery Channel every now and again, and is currently in a new role at the University of Reading, looking at the impact of research outside of academia.

What movies or live shows have you enjoyed the most in recent years?

Traveling for the IEEE is a real treat for me, as it typically means a few uninterrupted hours of film watching on flights around the world.  I had an inspirational trip to Atlanta recently (to attend the IEEE Board Series Meeting in June 2019) and watched a double header of “On the Basis of Sex” – a drama biopic about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, followed by her documentary “RBG.”  What an amazing woman, with her champion husband and incredible story.  We are also taking trips down memory lane in my household, re-watching Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, followed by our own spaghetti and meatball dinner.  My two year old daughter was over the moon with joy.  I have also loved live theatre my whole life, and my latest treat was Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, another inspirational story about a talented woman with an impressive career.

What about current technology worries you?

It isn’t current technology that worries me, but more so how people can use / misuse that technology.  There are social, ethical and legal ramifications for using technology – many issues that are being unpicked by our STEM engagement and impact communities – which is a step in the right direction.

What in recent years has surprised you the most?

I am surprised how the term “AI” is so ubiquitous these days, with very unsatisfying explanations about its meaning and context.  I am surprised how powerful my mobile phone is, and how quickly it then becomes unusable.  I am surprised how the number of women staying in engineering (in certain countries) is so slow to change despite the concerted efforts of so many to focus on STEM for children in their early years, etc.  I am surprised how much pink is still for girls, and blue is still for boys.  Oh, and my daughter – she surprises me daily.

What was the best advice anyone has given you?

Sometimes in life, you are put in a situation that you just wouldn’t have chosen for yourself.  How you behave in this situation, how you make the best out of this situation, is entirely up to you.  When I was given this advice, I didn’t realize that it was just a longer version of: when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.

What has been or is your favorite equation or concept in engineering, and why?

I love equations – the more complicated the better.  In engineering, I especially enjoyed taking the time to figure out the hardest equation and breaking it down into tangible bits that I could crack.  My background in electrical engineering included a lot of pattern recognition, signal processing, and complex mathematics.

What have been important life lessons for you that you might be able to share with us? 

Strive for excellence in all that you do.  Always try your best – because you just can’t do any better.  You must love what you do in life, because a job is just a job, and a passion is for a lifetime.

How many unread emails are in your inbox?

At the moment, five, but there will certainly be another thirty by the morning.  The beauty of working with volunteers around the world, is that you are guaranteed a full inbox every morning, and every night.  I was fortunate enough to stumble across a productivity course a few years ago, and I became an “email ninja” – only processing my inbox a few times a day, and working out a filing system that works most of the time.  I still need to work hard at responding to my emails, but more and more, I am trying to speak with colleagues instead, online and via phone, to avoid email overload and paperwork burnout.

What should IEEE be (more) involved in?  

I would love to see a higher public profile for the IEEE, that goes beyond our science/engineering/technical communities that already know about our strengths and hold our work to a high esteem.  I think that making IEEE accessible for the public (Who created the standard of IEEE 802.11x or Wi-Fi, used and loved everywhere?) would help breakdown the stereotype of ‘the engineer’ which exists in many countries still.  I believe this would help make our profession as diverse and inclusive as it needs to be in order to best advance technology for the benefit of humanity.