Solar-Powered Pumps for Improved Irrigation

Innovator (Country of Incorporation): 
United States
Innovation Stage: 
Clean Energy Source: 
Agricultural Focus: 
Product Segment: 
Year of Award: 

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.


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.


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: 

By the end of the Powering Agriculture Award in June 2017, iDE had pioneered a new product category of solar pump. iDE worked with its partners, Futurepump and the PRACTICA Foundation, on the development and refinement of the Sunflower pump–now branded as the SF1–a highly efficient piston pump powered by an 80-watt PV panel. This latest version of the pump, featuring a 40% reduction in weight and volume while retaining efficiency, was tested at sites in Kenya and began shipping to Nepal and Zambia. iDE installed 1,064 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: 
May. 3, 2019

In cooperation with University of Ostfalia in Germany, GIZ has developed an e-learning course on Solar Powered Irrigation Systems. The course will increase knowledge and understanding of SPIS technologies and their adaptability to a variety of farming, cropping, and irrigation systems. The free online course will run June18-July 30, 2019. Registration closes on May 30, 2019.

Jul. 26, 2018

iDE uses a market-based approach to make technologies for better agriculture more readily available to farmers in developing countries. A great example is Powering Agriculture Innovator Futurepump, a business that iDE helped create. Their Sunflower Pump is successful in several developing markets.

Apr. 5, 2018

Powering Agriculture Innovators iDE and Futurepump are both examples of impact investing, which Iain Hunter, CEO of iDE, says can be a game changer in the renewables sector and in environmental projects. He suggests that businesses can "future-proof" themselves by investing in renewables.