Irrigation pumps powered by clean renewable energy, such as solar pumps, could solve both the economic and environmental dilemma: they don’t emit greenhouse gases, and their fuel is free. But renewable-powered pumps have remained a marginal technology. There is currently no such pump available on the market that is tailored specifically to the needs of the Indian small farmer, with an unsubsidized price low enough to compete with the diesel pumps and be adopted widely
Two concepts from Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution Challenge have been selected as the most promising early submissions. The designs address the challenge’s core focus: designing a renewable energy powered irrigation pump for off-grid farmers in the Indian state of Bihar, making it affordable enough to reduce the current dependence on diesel pumps.
Both ideas address the drawbacks faced by solar irrigation systems: the pumps available now cost thousands of dollars, far out of reach of small-scale farmers. They require a large, fixed installation, which is both easily stolen and difficult to move to other farms for demonstration or leasing.
The winner of the first prize is a team of designers working a world apart: Eric Jensen, an agricultural engineer from Canada, and Vivek Mundkur, a retired engineer from the Indian army. Both have experience designing irrigation pumps in their respective countries, and saw an opportunity for collaboration when each submitted their concepts to the challenge. Together, they created a small submersible pump designed to be assembled and repaired with simple shop tools. The solar array powering the system folds to allow for easy transport, and a flexible hose carries water from the pump to the farmer’s field. “It’s an idea built upon experience and solid analysis, with potential to rapid prototype and move to mass production,” said Dr. Robert Yoder of IDE, one of the jury members.
The second goes to Balázs Gábor Nagy, a Hungarian engineer. His concept uses six custom solar panels and a pump mounted on a hand truck for maximum portability, paired with an off-the-shelf pump modified with a more efficient motor. To combat water losses, the system uses an inexpensive hose, easily moved around the farmer’s field to water various sections of vegetables.
The challenge is still open, however – with more than 140 submissions already entered and more appearing daily, the competition for 30,000 Euros in prizes is far from over.
After the submission period closes on the 15th of November, the final winners will be decided by a community and jury vote. Awards will be presented by Greenpeace at a ceremony to take place in Patna, the capital of Bihar state in India, on December 12th. The winners will meet with members of the jury as well as funders and local experts to organize prototyping and in-field beta testing, so the feedback of real Bihar farmers can be taken into account and the designs transformed into a viable product. Greenpeace will then help kickstart market entry by training young entrepreneurs to use, service, and maintain the pumps, creating an ecosystem to ensure that the new pumps will bring life to farmers’ fields for years to come.