Many of us tend to take creature comforts like electricity for granted, but for many families around the world, energy poverty is a very real problem.
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By 8 p.m., most of the homes in the West African country of Sierra Leone are plunged into darkness for the night. Almost three quarters of the population there has no access to electricity, so one intrepid young inventor set out to find a solution.
Jeremiah Thoronka grew up during the civil war in Sierra Leone. His single mother had no formal education, and their family relied on firewood and dangerous homemade lanterns for heat and light. When he landed a scholarship to a private school at age 10, Jeremiah was faced with the truth of his situation.
“Every day I was moving between two worlds,” he recalled. “There was electricity in abundance at school.”
Even at his young age, Jeremiah recognized the income inequality that was keeping generations from rising out of poverty. He watched his classmates struggle to keep up with their schoolwork because they had no light to study by at home, and he saw homes destroyed by fires caused by kerosene generators. He also witnessed his area’s forests being depleted as people cut down trees for firewood. Worse, the climate change caused by deforestation led to landslides and flooding. Something simply had to be done.
“I wanted to develop a more sustainable energy system, educate people about energy efficiency, and stop their overuse of natural resources,” said Jeremiah, who added that Sierra Leone’s power grid is failing and there’s no plan to repair it. “It is inefficient, costing millions of dollars and pushing so many people into energy poverty. Even in the big cities, people cannot connect to the national grid. There is a vacuum of energy in rural areas.”
Realizing that people can’t always rely on elements like wind and water, Jeremiah came up with a device to harness the power of kinetic energy. Put simply, his piezoelectric device traps the energy of people moving around – or in this case, cars driving on a highway – and turns it into clean energy.
By the time he was 17, Jeremiah founded a startup called Optim Energy and initiated a pilot project in his neighborhood. His piezoelectric device now powers 150 small buildings and homes, including 15 schools. More than 10,000 people, most of them students, have already benefitted from the invention, and it requires zero help from weather patterns, batteries, or power grids. The young inventor asserts that his device is capable of powering thousands, if not millions, of homes in the future!
Jeremiah is now 20, and he has won numerous awards for his work in kinetic energy. Most recently, actor Hugh Jackman announced via live telecast that Jeremiah beat out 3,500 other contestants to win the Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2021. He earned $100,000 for the top award, which he’ll use to take his invention to the next level.
“You’ve made an enormous difference to your community and far beyond,” Jackman said in the video. “I’m sure that you will now use this incredible platform to make an even bigger impact.”
The milestone meant the world to Jeremiah. “It’s amazing, it’s wonderful,” he said. “Words can’t express how I feel about this.”
Jeremiah firmly believes access to energy is a human right, and he’s fighting to bring equality to his part of the world – and beyond. There are unlimited uses for this sort of invention!
Share this incredible story to congratulate Jeremiah for making such a tremendous, lasting impact.
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