Solar-Powered Pumps for Improved Irrigation

Innovator (Country of Incorporation): 
United States
Collaborators: 
Clean Energy Source: 
Agricultural Focus: 
Product Segment: 
Year of Award: 
Financing Status: 
Organization: 

iDE has over 30 years’ experience creating business opportunities that spread transformative products and services through the developing world. In rural agriculture, iDE develops appropriate agricultural products and engages the private sector to supply these products to smallholder farmers, improving long-standing agricultural practices. iDE has reached over 23 million people across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This project is implemented in partnership with PRACTICA Foundation—a Dutch organization that has a focus on the commercial application of technology in the field of water and energy—and Futurepump Ltd.—a UK manufacturer of efficient renewable irrigation pumps.

Problem/Opportunity: 

Globally, there are more than 800 million smallholder farmers, many of whom manually lift and haul over four tons of water daily to irrigate their farmland. These farmers can drastically decrease their labor and expand their irrigable area by employing motorized pumps. Currently, the most accessible and affordable pump solutions are small engine pumps powered by increasingly expensive fossil fuels. Consequently, many farmers are either unable to provide sufficient irrigation to their crops, and/or must allocate a sufficient portion of their income to environmentally-hazardous fossil fuels.

Clean Energy Solution: 

To increase agricultural productivity, incomes, and livelihoods of smallholder farmers, iDE and its partners have developed a Clean Irrigation Solution that will provide smallholder farmers across the developing world the opportunity to mechanize their farming with zero carbon emissions. The system uses the Sunflower pump, an efficient, versatile, and cost-effective piston pump powered by a PV panel, which is coupled with iDE’s affordable, ultra-low pressure drip irrigation kit to maximize the agricultural output and value of each drop of water pumped.

Technology development is only one component of bringing the Sunflower pump to scale. iDE has identified five key factors needed to bring a Clean Irrigation Solution to scale:

  • Appropriate Technology—iDE is working with the PRACTICA Foundation to develop a low-cost solar pump called the Sunflower pump.

  • Viable Business Plan—iDE is partnering with Futurepump, a private company that will be responsible for the manufacturing and global distribution of the Sunflower pump.

  • Accompanying Finance Model—iDE is identifying finance models to bring down the high upfront costs that currently make the Sunflower pump cost-prohibitive to smallholder farmers.

  • Established Supply Chain—iDE is identifying national and sub-national level retailers to bring the Sunflower pump to different markets. iDE is working through its last-mile distribution network to provide installation and repair services.

  • Marketing and Educational Resources—iDE is developing training manuals for field technicians and using demonstration plots to convey the benefits of the Sunflower pump for smallholder farmers.

Impact: 

By the end of this project, iDE’s goal is to have a commercially available solar pump product for farmers irrigating up to 2,000 square meters of high-value dry season vegetables. Use of the Sunflower pump allows farmers to increase their farm productivity, and thus their income. It allows farmers to mechanize their farming with zero carbon emissions. When paired with a drip irrigation system, use of the Sunflower pump can also significantly reduce labor requirements. Use of the Sunflower pump instead of a fossil fuel engine can reduce annual carbon emissions by 0.5 a ton. With a 10-year lifespan, each pump reduces CO2 emissions by 5 tons.

Progress Update: 

iDE has pioneered a new product category of solar pump. iDE has worked with its partners, Futurepump and the PRACTICA Foundation, on the development of the Sunflower pump, a highly efficient piston pump powered by an 80-watt PV panel. iDE currently has installed 84 pumps for testing at 48 active field sites; 80 in Honduras, Zambia, Nepal. An additional 4 pumps have been installed in the USA, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, and Cambodia, which shows iDE’s progress towards global distribution. As a result of these field tests, iDE and its partners have gone through five design iterations of the pump. In addition, 80 pumps have been sold to iDE’s private sector partners for sales to end users in Zambia and Nepal.

Project News: 
Jul. 25, 2016

Over April 13–26, PAEGC visited 11 of iDE’s SunFlower solar pumps installed in five plain regions of Nepal. PAEGC interviewed farmers using the SunFlower pumps for irrigation, as well as various stakeholders in the pump supply chain, including an agricultural cooperative and a future pump retailer.

Jul. 25, 2016

PAEGC conducted visits to all seven of iDE’s SunFlower pump installation sites in Honduras over June 6–10. PAEGC interviewed the vegetable farmers using iDE’s clean irrigation technology, the Honduras iDE Team and visited the organization’s warehouse.

Jan. 28, 2015

iDE has, in recent weeks, installed the first round of pumps in Nepal for field trials. The field-testing is important because it gives farmers a chance to see the technology, understand how it works and provide their feedback.