“Young entrepreneurs and innovators are working hard to create a low carbon energy market” – Jeremiah Thoronka
Mankind needs an alternative to fossil fuels. Solar, wind and water-generated energy are all possibilities, but with the present technology, they can be unreliable. What is needed is a reliable source of clean energy that does not pollute the environment, does not endanger the health and does not meet the needs of only the wealthy in society. Using kinetic energy, such a device was invented in Sierra Leone by 17-year-old Jeremiah Thoronka, now a 21-year-old Master’s student studying Sustainability at Durham University.
Jeremiah’s invention, Optim Energy, is a piezoelectric device that harnesses the energy generated by pressure, heat, vibrations and the weather to create affordable and clean electricity. The device is buried in the ground, and the vibration and kinetic energy it uses is produced by moving objects coming into contact with it. Unlike other forms of renewable electricity generation, such as solar or wind power, the device does not rely on weather conditions. As Jeremiah says,” The sun is not always shining, water is drying up, fossil fuels are not always going to be used, but people are always moving”.
Having invented the device, at the age of 17 while at university in Rwanda, Jeremiah launched Optim Energy to address the chronic energy poverty in Sierra Leone, where only 26 per cent of the population have access to electricity and in rural areas, it is only 6 per cent. His objective was “to develop a more sustainable energy system, educate people about energy efficiency and stop their overuse of natural resources”. Using only two devices, the start-up provided electricity, free of charge, to 150 households and 15 schools in Jeremiah’s home communities of Makawo in the northern part of Sierra Leone and Kuntoluh East of Freetown, thereby benefitting some 1500 people and 9000 pupils. As a result of the community switching its power supply to a cleaner, more efficient option, the school performance and health of the children has improved. Businesses have also been able to stay open longer, street lighting has improved the safety and security of the area, and deforestation and atmospheric pollution have been reduced.
In addition, the enterprise has produced an online energy efficiency calculator to monitor and reduce the energy demand and has introduced sessions in schools explaining why we need to take responsibility for the environment and change our consumption behaviour. Meanwhile, Jeremiah’s 5-year plan for the business is to “touch the lives of 100,000 people” and ensure that “regardless of the geographical location they find themselves in, their economic level, or their background, access to energy is a guarantee”.
Jeremiah regards access to energy as a human right, and as a result of this belief, his invention and community involvement, he has received numerous awards, including the Commonwealth Youth Award. This is awarded annually to 5 young people who transform lives in their communities and help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Clearly, Optim Energy addresses, directly, at least 8 of the 17 SDGs, namely 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 9 (Industry Innovation and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), and 15 (Life on Land).
Most recently, on 10th November, 2021, Jeremiah won the first-ever Chegg.org Global Student Prize. The award of $100,000, is given to a student who has made a real impact on learning, their peers’ lives and society. When presenting Jeremiah with the award, the Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman said, “you’ve made an enormous difference to your community and far beyond. I’m sure that you will now use this incredible platform to make an even bigger impact”. If Jeremy’s plans are anything to go by, he most certainly will. He intends to use the funds to scale up Optim Energy, thereby helping take more rural residents out of energy poverty by producing energy that is affordable and environmentally friendly and by helping to introduce more responsible consumption and the use of natural resources. Also, he has plans to expand into Sierra Leone’s healthcare sector, which requires light to treat patients at night and power to chill medicines and vaccines.
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