01/31/2014 09:33 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2014

National Geographic's Terra Watt Prize

Access to finance is the largest barrier to scaling off grid clean energy access technologies for the 1.3 billion around the world currently left in the dark. Anyone who follows the space closely has heard this refrain time and time again. For those of us beating that drum it's nice to know our refrain is not falling on deaf ears. National Geographic is the latest in a number of institutions to announce an energy access challenge. If you care about clean energy, or the billions who lack it, it's time to learn more about National Geographic's Terra Watt Prize.

For the past several years, National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge has been supporting early stage entrepreneurs. The Terra Watt Prize is a separate but logical extension of that effort aimed at building on the successes of those entrepreneurs. The aim is to address two major challenges in village electrification: access to investors for entrepreneurs; and a forum of credible experts to provide diligent review of promising companies.

The prize idea arose from the staff's recognition that there are a growing number of investors, interested in sustainable and scalable approaches to solving energy poverty. These same investors have increased confidence thanks to the tremendous innovation occurring in clean energy's next big market - off-grid energy solutions. They're also increasingly interested because in more ways than one telecom has helped pave the way for success in this market.

Judging by the list of judges floated thus far, entrepreneurs will want to be a part of this contest if for no other reason the network it can create. That's partly why the cash prize is modest - two $125k cash grants - because the real potential lies in the exposure.

The rest of us should pay attention to the other core focus of the prize - business model innovation. The innovation happening in this market is incredible from pay as you go systems to wireless mini grids. It will be exciting to see what new innovations the prize turns up.

So National Geographic has laid down the challenge. Investors are already lining up to see who enters. If you're an up-and-coming entrepreneur in the space, now's your chance to be seen in one of clean tech's most exciting new markets.

For more information on National Geographic's Terra Watt Prize, visit: