New York City-Based Developer Wins First Prize in United Nations #Electricity4All Unite Ideas Challenge

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25 July 2016

New York City-Based Developer Wins First Prize in United Nations #Electricity4All Unite Ideas Challenge

NEW YORK, 25 July (Office of Information and Communications Technology) — The United Nations announced that Monica Chelliah has won the Unite Ideas #Electricity4All Python programming challenge.  She was presented with the award during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

In addition to Ms. Chelliah, other finalists were Ilkka Peltonen, a software designer from Finland, and Christian Arderne, a KTH Sweden research engineer from South Africa.

The global programming competition aimed to engage the public in refining a computer model that uses open geospatial data to identify the mix of electrification technologies that will provide sub-Saharan Africa with universal access to electricity at the lowest cost.  The project was a collaboration involving the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology and the United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology.

“The United Nations is committed to breaking down barriers to connect the best developers, technologies and data available,” said Atefeh Riazi, Assistant Secretary-General and Chief Technology Officer.  “The results of this Challenge show that the very best ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and exactly when you need them, if you are willing to open the door and invite the world in.”

Ms. Chelliah, an associate software developer currently working in New York City, was awarded the top prize for her solution, which converted the complex energy planning model into Python, a more accessible open-source programming language, making it more useful for researchers, organizations and Governments involved in energy planning.  “This means a great deal to me, as I was keen to contribute to the development of this code,” she said upon accepting the award.  “It has wide-reaching advantages and benefits by researching electricity access to developing nations.  This Challenge also spoke to me on a personal level as it clearly demonstrated the rising power of code and what it may achieve for social and human development.”

While several other submissions were “interesting, elegant and well-documented,” Ms. Chelliah’s code “exceeded expectations”, said KTH’s Dimitris Mentis, who participated in the judging.  Her solution uses the hashing technique for finding nearest neighbours to significantly reduce the complex model’s run time from 50 hours to under five minutes and apply the overall analysis in finer resolution maps than were previously available.

The winning solution will be used to run several new scenarios that will be incorporated into modelling tools of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs for sustainable development policies, including the Universal Access to Electricity Model.  Ms. Chelliah’s work will also be announced on the website of the KTH Division of Energy Systems Analysis and will be cited in an upcoming edition of a high-impact scientific journal.

The open-source solutions submitted as part of the #Electricity4All challenge will help facilitate further analysis of electrification policies in developing countries, allowing the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and KTH policy researchers to update and expand on comprehensive electrification planning studies.  Using open data and open-source technology also ensures these solutions are cost-effective, easy to use and available to anyone, and facilitates the transfer of such technology to the countries that need it most.

“Electricity is essential to poverty alleviation and sustainable development, making it a central priority for the United Nations,” said Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development.  “However, the goal of providing universal access to electricity carries significant challenges, including the high cost of infrastructure required to bring electricity to remote areas.  The results of this Challenge bring us closer to providing a powerful tool that will allow us to identify the best possible solution for universal electrification.”

#Electricity4All is the fourth Challenge issued by Unite Ideas, a big data crowd-sourcing platform developed by the Office of Information and Communications Technology to facilitate collaboration among academia, civil society and United Nations offices, and to mobilize data scientists and software developers worldwide to help tackle the complex issues faced by the Organization and its Member States though the creation of open-source solutions.  To date, academia, the general public and private companies have responded to the Unite Ideas challenges with more than 40 open-source solutions, many of which will be used by the United Nations or shared with Member States.

The winning #Electricity4All solution and the submissions of the other finalists can be viewed at unite.un.org/ideas.

For more information, please contact Taija Sironen at uniteideas@un.org.

For information media. Not an official record.