For reasons beyond my control, I missed out on my annual Ashden fix last week (the Awards ceremony was on Thursday 22 May), and have had to make do with checking out the website, reading up on the winners, and getting the usual brilliant feedback from those who were lucky enough to be there.

The Award winners (both international and in the UK) are always inspiring. Over the years, there have been so many amazing stories of people and organisations working against the grain of today’s energy markets to deliver more sustainable solutions.

But more recently, as both the inevitability and the growing acceptability of such solutions grows, I find myself looking beyond the immediate award-winning attributes of each of these schemes to their potential for really disrupting the system that holds back these winners from doing even more at even greater scale.

We’re playing for high stakes here. If ‘radical decarbonisation’ is still the name of the game (and it had better be, in the face of accelerating climate change, however weak-kneed our politicians may be about it), then the transition from fossil fuels and increasingly inefficient grids to renewables, smart grids and massive gains in overall efficiency, represents the biggest ever economic shift in the short history of modern capitalism. And at the end of that transition process, it absolutely won’t be capitalism as we know it today that we’ll be dealing with.

What’s really exciting about today’s sustainable energy innovations is the degree to which they are simultaneously giving rise to new business models, seriously weakening the stranglehold that today’s incumbent players in the world of energy have had around our throats for decades. It may not be fun for shareholders, for instance, but just watching the near-implosion in the conventional business models of big energy companies (EON, RWEVattenfall etc) in Germany, where alternative business models have made ground fastest, gives us a sense of the revolution to come.

So which of this year’s Ashden winners are contributing most to that exciting, disruptive scenario? First up has to be the redoubtable Dale Vince of Ecotricity who has set out to kick-start demand for electric vehicles by creating a new ‘Electric Highway’ – a network of fast-charging points across the UK motorway system. In the process, he has got himself involved in a bit of a spat with the even more entrepreneurial Elon Musk of Tesla fame – but this is the kind of ‘big beast battle’ that I rather hope we’ll see more of in the future!

And then, from a very different perspective, there’s Abundance Generation, a crowd-funding platform that allows people to invest directly in sustainable energy projects –
good both for ‘widening the franchise’ and for increasing access to finance for small-scale energy developers.

Or Hemcrete Projects, which is now able to provide standardised, super-efficient building panels made out of Hemcrete – hemp mixed with lime. And one of the additional innovations they’re pioneering is the ability to put together the panels off-site, made-to-measure, so they can just be slotted together like a jig-saw puzzle on site.

And from the pool of international winners, my attention was grabbed most compellingly by Off Grid Electric – an East African start-up in the field of mobile money “providing solar energy as a daily service at an affordable price”. What the judges really liked about this was the quality of customer care involved: just because people are poor doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same sort of ongoing support and service as the well-off take for granted.

None of these innovations is guaranteed still to be a winner (in real market terms) in a few years’ time, let alone the kind of winner that will be part of that even bigger disruption challenge. But over the years, Ashden has already identified a pool of disruptive potential that should give us all growing confidence that the answers are already out there somewhere.

Read more about this year’s Ashden Award winners here.