MSc student team wins £2.5k prize in Climate Investment Challenge

Team E-Rice (left to right): MSc students Arief Sanjaya, Shelty Juliavionni and Hilman Prasetya Edi
Team E-Rice (left to right): MSc students Arief Sanjaya, Shelty Juliavionni and Hilman Prasetya Edi
A team of three MSc students from the School of Engineering have won £2,500 as runners up in the Climate Investment Challenge.

Organised by Imperial College London Business School, the competition calls on university students from across the UK to develop and describe creative financial solutions and innovations addressing climate change. 

Arief Sanjaya (MSc Electrical Power Engineering), Shelty Juliavionni and Hilman Prasetya Edi (MSc Sustainable Energy Systems), impressed the judges with their ‘E-Rice: Sustainable Rice Farming’ proposal for an instrument based on a productivity performance contract (PPC) scheme that uses improvements in rice sales as revenue stream for rice farmers. The system seeks to solve a real-world problem in Indonesia, Arief, Shelty and Hilman’s home country. 

The team explained, “Indonesia is now facing a time bomb called 'the agriculture trilemma'. It has to reduce rice imports and balance supply and demand of rice by opening new lands for rice paddy. However this increases CO2 emissions from the agricultural sector. In addition to that, even with the increasing number of rice paddy fields, farmers’ prosperity has not improved significantly in the last decade.”

E-Rice proposes to use an innovative farming method called System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which controls watering levels and compost fertiliser to increase rice paddy productivity. The system uses energy generated by solar photovoltaics technology – which converts light into electricity using semiconducting materials – to power a computerised system that controls water and fertiliser use. 

The system also makes use of a financing scheme based on productivity performance contracts (PPC), which are designed to lift the financial capital burden away from the farmers by taking payments only after farmers have generated increased revenue. 

The system carries the benefits of being low-carbon, and highly productive – requiring fewer seeds, less water and relying on natural fertiliser, while also doubling production per farm area. 

Among the five finalists and after a presentation and defence of their proposal they came a close second behind a team from the University of Cambridge. 

The team now hope to pursue the E-Rice project in Indonesia, potentially by collaborating with stakeholders and business partners, while pursuing careers in the renewable energy sector.

We interviewed Arief, Shelty and Hilman, to find out more about their experience of the competition, and how their MSc studies contributed to their success.  

Q&A with Team E-Rice

What did you gain from taking part in the competition?

Hilman: "Personally, this competition provided me with the opportunity to elaborate every bit of the knowledge and experience that I gained from studying the MSc SES program for the last two semesters. It also escalated my insight into start-up development and idea pitching, which will be fruitful for my future career."

Arief: "The most valuable thing I obtained is confidence. The Climate Investment Challenge is a national grade business competition with participants from the best UK universities, and some may even be the best in their respective fields. Being a runner up of the competition showed that the knowledge and skill I gained at Edinburgh has allowed me to compete at the highest level, and that is reassuring. I should also note that we were the only engineers among the other five finalist teams (the others were from Imperial College and University of Cambridge business schools)."

Shelty: "The Climate Investment Challenge was my first participation in a business competition. I got the opportunity to learn the process of developing a simple business idea into a detailed project plan. As an engineering student, we were initially hesitant about whether our engineering-driven idea was suitable for business competition. Through this competition, I realised that it was beneficial to integrate engineering idea with business and socio-economic aspects.

How did your MSc studies help you to succeed in the competition?

Hilman: "The MSc Sustainable Energy Systems (MSc SES) has given me the required expertise to work in the sustainable energy sector, which was also in line with the skillset required to succeed in this kind of competition. The curriculum structure of MSc SES covers all the basics such as sustainable energy context, technology, economy, and even finance (if you take the energy finance optional class from the Edinburgh Business School, which I really recommend).

"The program has also connected me with professional and caring teaching staff without whom we would not have been able to achieve this. Our lecturers played a major role in our achievement; their wisdom continually supported us." 

Arief: "Within the team, my role was mostly about designing an automation system for farming that is powered by integrated solar panel and battery storage installation. All of these aspects are related to courses taught on the MSc Electrical Power Engineering. My MSc also included courses related to economics and presentation techniques, which prepared me to tackle not only engineering problems, but also other problems relevant to multiple aspects of life."

Shelty: "The MSc Sustainable Energy Systems not only taught me about sustainable energy technology but also broader aspects related to that, such as policy, economics, and finance. I had a limited background in finance, but through this programme, I got the opportunity to learn the importance of business modelling in delivering a technical idea. While preparing the project proposal, the lecturers gave us comprehensive feedback that helped us a lot to achieve this success."

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