Jeremiah Thoronka received a one-off prize of $100,000 (£74,741).
The 21-year-old, who is studying a Master’s degree in sustainability, was one of 10 finalists shortlisted for the inaugural Global Student Prize.
Mr Thoronka, from Sierra Leone, invented a device that uses kinetic energy from traffic and pedestrians to generate clean power.
The accolade is billed as the sister award to the Global Teacher Prize, and given to one student who has made a significant impact on learning, the lives of their peers and on society beyond.
During the virtual ceremony, broadcast from Unesco’s headquarters in Paris, actor Hugh Jackman congratulated Mr Thoronka as he awarded him the prize.
“You’ve made an enormous difference to your community and far beyond,” the Hollywood star said.
“I’m sure that you will now use this incredible platform to make an even bigger impact.”
Mr Thoronka, who received the award on Wednesday evening, said: “It’s amazing, it’s wonderful.
“Words can’t express how I feel about this.”
He said considering the calibre of the work by fellow students it was “an honour” to be named as the winner.
Mr Thoronka’s plan now is to carrying on prototyping, researching and developing his idea and working with communities.
He said the energy challenges of sub-Saharan Africa were of “great concern”.
He called on fellow students to keep challenging themselves to come up with solutions, saying he knew they had a lot to offer.
“We must not allow this period to pass without utilising all these avenues. We have a responsibility to fix things,” he said.
Postgraduate student Elliott Lancaster, from Keele University in Staffordshire, made the top 10 shortlist.
The 24-year-old, originally from Alfreton in Derbyshire, has been campaigning for mental health, social enterprise, sustainability and a solution to homelessness alongside his studies.
He said it had been “incredible and humbling” to be recognised for his community work.
David Swanston, deputy principal at St Vincent’s School in Liverpool, was one of 10 finalists shortlisted for the Global Teacher Prize but missed out on the $1m (£747,000) award.
It was won by Keishia Thorpe, an English teacher from the United States, who was chosen above 8,000 nominations from 121 countries.
Mr Swanston has helped pupils with visual impairments for more than a decade and is currently working on the development of rugby specifically for the blind by modelling game play and creating ball prototypes using textures and electronics.
Mr Swanston, originally from Falkirk, Scotland, he said he was “destined to be a teacher” having been “inspired” by his PE teachers as a child.
Andria Zafirakou, from London, became the UK’s first winner in 2018.