Jeremiah Thoronka is a 21-year-old innovator from Sierra Leone who has a vision to end energy poverty in his country and beyond. His invention, Optim Energy, is a device that converts kinetic energy from pedestrian and street traffic vibrations into clean, renewable electricity. He recently won the Global Student Prize at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, for his remarkable achievement.
The problem of energy poverty
Sierra Leone is one of the countries with the lowest access rates for electricity in the world. According to Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), only 26% of the population have access to electricity, and in rural areas, this figure drops to 6%. Most people rely on firewood, charcoal, kerosene generators and solar lanterns as their energy sources, which have negative impacts on health, environment, education and economic development.
Thoronka knows the challenges of living without electricity firsthand. He grew up in a slum on the outskirts of Freetown, the capital city, during the civil war. His single mother and his neighborhood depended on dirty and dangerous fuels for lighting and cooking. He witnessed many children suffering from respiratory problems, house fires and deforestation as a result of energy poverty.
He also experienced the contrast between his home and his school, where he was awarded a scholarship to attend one of the best institutions in the region. He saw how electricity enabled learning, communication and innovation. He decided to pursue his passion for renewable energy and robotics, and find a solution to the energy crisis in his country.
The solution of Optim Energy
When he was 17 and studying at the African Leadership University in Rwanda, Thoronka founded Optim Energy, an innovative start-up that uses kinetic energy – the energy objects have when in motion – to generate electricity. He designed a device that can be installed under roads or pavements, and capture the vibrations from vehicles and pedestrians passing by. The device then converts the vibrations into electrical energy that can be stored in batteries or used to power appliances.
Optim Energy has many advantages over other renewable energy sources. It does not depend on weather conditions or batteries, which can be expensive and unreliable. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by replacing fossil fuels. It is scalable, affordable and easy to install and maintain. It can provide electricity to remote areas that are not connected to the grid, or supplement the existing grid that suffers from frequent power cuts.
Thoronka has tested his prototype in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, where he has installed it in schools, health centers and households. He estimates that one device can produce enough electricity to power three LED bulbs for 24 hours, or charge 15 phones per day. By replacing the use of kerosene, it reduces the risk of fires from the combustible fuel source, reduces the negative impacts on health, increases productivity and can offset around 370kg of CO2 per year.
The recognition of Global Student Prize
Thoronka’s invention has earned him international recognition and support. He was selected as one of the finalists for the Global Student Prize, a new award launched by the Varkey Foundation and Chegg.org to celebrate outstanding students who are making a positive impact on society. He competed with more than 3,500 applicants from 94 countries, and impressed the judges with his innovation, leadership and social impact.
He was announced as the winner of the prize on November 10th, 2021, at a ceremony in Paris, where he received $100,000 in prize money. He plans to use the money to expand his start-up, improve his technology and reach more people with his solution. He hopes to impact 100,000 people by 2030 with his clean energy device.
He also hopes to inspire other young people to pursue their dreams and make a difference in their communities. He says: “I want young people to know that they have potential within them. They should not let their circumstances define them or limit them. They should use their challenges as motivation to create solutions.”
We want to celebrate Jeremiah today for being an exceptional young man with excellent invention. You are truly a Rising African and an able role model for the new African. Rising Africa is a dynamic platform that highlights the remarkable achievements of Africans worldwide and provides up-to-date information on scholarships and sponsorships available to African youth. Our vision is to inspire and empower the next generation of African leaders by showcasing the diverse accomplishments and talents of Africans across different fields, including technology, business, arts and culture, and social activism.
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- How pedestrians are lighting homes in Sierra Leone – BBC
- Jeremiah Thoronka Wins Global Student Prize – The Borgen Project
- Sierra Leonean innovator Jeremiah Thoronka wins prestigious global Greentech award – ManoReporters.com