Sun, Water, Life


June 15th, 2018

There was an Afghan, a Pakistani, an Ethiopian, a Somalian and an Englishman…. Sounds like the start of a bad joke but fortunately it is not!

But it is a reflection of the global interest in addressing the crucial issue of access to affordable water supplies that are so needed to sustain communities, particularly those without access to affordable energy and reliant on agriculture for food security and income generation.

All of these nationalities were squashed in friendly harmony in the back of taxi making introductions on the way to a two day workshop on the use of solar power for pumping water.

The workshop was hosted by the solar water pumping company Lorentz at their technology centre in Hamburg. Lorentz are a German company and have been focused on solar water pumping for more than 20 years (Sun, Water, Life is their mantra). They doing nothing else but solar water pumping systems, from development to manufacture to installation and aftercare through a global network of distributors and partners.

They have a wealth of experience in installing systems in some very challenging locations and conditions and across a range of applications from refugee camps to remote impoverished communities. What perhaps sets them apart from other pump manufacturers is their integration, and application of, software into the pump controller and an app based interface to monitor and control pump performance. They also have an app based system that can enable PAYG services for the provision of water, either for household use or irrigation.

Setting aside any particular manufacturer what became absolutely clear for the assorted participants is that it makes little sense to look at energy, water and food in isolation of each other. For those struggling to meet their daily needs in rural communities these three resources are increasingly under pressure from population growth and the impacts of climate change. The ability to pump water using free clean energy to irrigate land and provide improved sanitation gets to the heart of this challenge.

Of course what is not free is the technology to make this happen. The upfront investment cost of a good quality system is still higher than that of a diesel or petrol pump. However, this is soon recovered (can be as little as 2 years) when the cost of fuel and maintenance is taken into account.

And the cost of solar pumping has decreased significantly over the last 5 years as the panels required to capture this free energy have tumbled in price as they have become a commodity item.

So how can this cost be met?

Two approaches, using widely available technology in the areas we work in, were shared during the workshop:

  • Pay at point of extraction (Pay at pump) – A pump is loaded with credits. This allows for pre-payment of water either locally or centrally.
  • Pay at point of delivery (Pay at tap) Consumers pre-load secure tokens with credits (litres). Smart Taps dispense water and reduce credits on the token.

As Practical Action we already have a number of projects on the go making use of solar power for irrigation and the provision of drinking water. This includes working with small holder farmers in Zimbabwe to help them to increase their income through the use of solar powered irrigation to improve crop production, and getting better prices for their produce in the local market.

With the costs decreasing and the technology forever improving the opportunities to harness this free energy source in emerging economies are increasingly being recognised by both the private and public sector. We seek to encourage this and find innovative ways to scale up affordable use of this technology.

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