Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize Selects Climate Justice Changemakers

18 Organizations Prioritizing Climate Solutions for Underrepresented Communities Win $200,000 Each

May 24, 2022 | By Brittany Enos | Contact media relations

The Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize fosters grassroots innovation, community-centric networks, and ground-up solutions to accelerate climate and clean energy technology advancement within disadvantaged communities. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced the prize’s Phase One winners, who are paving the way to an inclusive, equitable, and just energy future.

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Launched by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, the prize centers on climate and environmental justice as part of the transition to a net-zero-carbon economy by 2050. DOE’s community-centric competition awards organizations that advance the Justice40 Initiative by identifying activities related to climate and clean energy that support, build trust, and strengthen relationships and partnerships with disadvantaged communities.

As part of the American-Made Challenges prize portfolio, the $5.1 million, two-phase competition seeks to enable and enhance business and technology incubation, acceleration, and other community- and university-based entrepreneurship and innovation in climate and clean energy technologies. With over 200 applications, this prize has attracted more applicants and followers than any prize to date. Of those submissions, 85% were first-time applicants, and 54% of applications were submitted by a women-, minority-, or disadvantaged-person-owned business.

During Phase One, teams submitted impact plans that detailed their experiences in engaging and supporting disadvantaged communities. These plans also included activities they would like to implement during Phase Two, resources and capabilities needed to successfully execute prize goals, and finally, their vision and the anticipated long-term impacts of their project.

From tribal nations to urban centers, rural towns to suburban America, and high schoolers to college students, teams focused on communities from every corner of the nation, demonstrating their commitment to building an inclusive innovation ecosystem and putting people at the center of clean energy and climate justice.

The following Phase One winners will each receive $200,000 to carry out the activities described in their impact plans:

  • Accelerating the Impact of Diverse Entrepreneurs, Washington, D.C.: The American Council on Renewable Energy will expand and grow their Accelerate Program, focused on emerging Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders in the cleantech/renewable energy space, manage the C-suite mentorship program, and release a series of case studies to amplify and promote the best practices and lessons learned in building up diverse founders in the cleantech field.
  • Alabama Energy Transformation Initiative, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama and Energy Alabama will work together to provide education and empowerment programs to expose, train, and recruit minority students into clean energy and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
  • Clean Energy Restoration for Rural Alaska Villages, Anchorage, Alaska: The Tebughna Foundation aims to return Alaskan Indigenous communities to clean and affordable resources to help improve the daily lives of rural community members.
  • Central Valley Innovation Ecosystem, Fresno, California: The Water, Energy and Technology Center at California State University, Fresno, will create and manage a regionwide college-level program that matches students with climate- and energy-focused startups and provides technical assistance and advisory services to entrepreneurs and startups in underserved communities. 
  • Community Engagement for a Clean Energy Economy, Bethesda, Maryland: Two organizations, One Montgomery Green and Bethesda Green, will work with local businesses to expand entrepreneurship training and mentoring, support Montgomery County businesses in becoming green-certified and/or B Corporations, and promote financing availability.
  • Creative Collaborations Build Thriving Communities, New York, New York: Soulful Synergy will expand its existing Clean Energy Academy workforce training program to recruit and train participants from disadvantaged communities at no cost and ultimately build a more diverse workforce that is equipped to meet the challenges of the Justice40 Initiative.
  • Empowering the Future Energy Workforce, Richland, Washington: Washington State University Tri-Cities will develop new academic programs, research collaborations, and entrepreneurial activities in clean energy and climate innovation, including a research-based course with industry mentors and incubator integration aimed at engaging, retaining, and empowering Hispanic/LatinX students.
  • Energy Profiles Build Community Energy Resilience, Utuado, Puerto Rico: Data Miners for the Mountains will develop a heat map of regions in Puerto Rico to show where energy resiliency projects can make the most impact; identify locations to collect high-resolution energy consumption data; empower rural, mountain villages in Puerto Rico to take control of a clean energy future by installing rooftop solar and storage systems, starting with businesses and community service centers.
  • Feed the Second Line: Get Lit, Stay Lit!, New Orleans, Louisiana: Feed the Second Line will assess interest among local restaurants in a solar-powered-plus-storage microgrid, which would provide power for disaster relief scenarios; conduct feasibility analyses and work with restaurants on installation financing and logistics; and work with solar-panel installers to start apprenticeships for community members.
  • Green Door Initiative, Detroit, Michigan: The Green Door Initiative will mitigate energy insecurity, increase access to climate-smart job training and job placement/hiring for underrepresented residents (including returning citizens), and establish an environmental justice model that can be replicated in other communities and states.
  • Imani Green Works! Community Justice & Innovation, Chicago, Illinois: Imani Green Works is a coalition of nine organizations working to create a minority-owned, minority-managed company to provide clean energy workforce development programs for historically disenfranchised residents of Chicago’s Pullman Community and Washington Heights neighborhoods, and conduct community workshops to foster grassroots innovation in climate smart projects.
  • Increase Battery Work Force Development, Atlanta, Georgia: NanoResearch will increase participation of disadvantaged groups in battery research, workforce development, and entrepreneurship for job and wealth creation; and increase access for marginalized communities to secure more state and federal funding for battery storage growth and electric vehicles.
  • Native Sun REZ Network, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Native Sun will create the Reservation Energy Zone (REZ) Network: a network of tribes seeking to share information, support, and opportunities; promote community electric vehicle charging, workforce training, and weatherization and rooftop solar panels; and connect communities to investors and the federal government.
  • New Haven Eco-Entrepreneurship Creative Lab, New Haven, Connecticut: Gather New Haven will recruit young people to participate in the New Haven Eco-Entrepreneurship Creative Lab and help students pitch climate-related technology projects to increase community engagement and acceptance.
  • Path to Tribal Energy Sovereignty, Pine Ridge, South Dakota: Red Cloud Renewable will provide tribal communities with the workforce and entrepreneurship training, technology know-how, and resources to drive solar and other renewable energy projects on tribal lands.
  • SEEEDing Knoxville's Just Energy Ecosystem, Knoxville, Tennessee: The nonprofit Socially Equally Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) aims to design a community-driven just energy ecosystem, encourage distribution of clean energy benefits to the community and develop clean energy jobs training for disadvantaged youth.
  • Solar Utilization and Commercialization Coalition for Energy Efficiency Devices, Edinburg, Texas: A coalition of professionals, organizations, and academic institutions that support startups and entrepreneurs will work to bolster the solar manufacturing industry in Texas and build economic potential in the Rio Grande Valley.
  • "Xcelerating" Black Climate Startups in Portland, Portland, Oregon: NWX Launch will carry out climate-justice-related community building activities, work on STEM workforce development, run an entrepreneur accelerator program consisting of startup development and incubation, design and develop facilities for hands-on workforce training, and provide incubator and maker spaces.

To help further meet their communities’ unique needs, the 18 winning teams will also receive in-kind mentorship and other support services during Phase Two. During the second phase of the prize, which is now open, these teams will spend 12 months implementing their proposed programs and related activities.

Phase Two of the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize is anticipated to close in May 2023. Up to six teams will receive awards from a prize pool of $1.5 million based on their performance in this second phase.

Stay up to date with the prize and winner activities.

Tags: Community