Advancing Markets for Off-Grid Solar Water Pumps and Grain Mills

The LEIA team is partnering with industry players to support the uptake of energy efficient, off-grid agricultural appliances

Solar Water Pumping in Tanzania

Despite the high potential and conducive agro-climate for development of the agriculture sector in sub-Saharan Africa (especially among smallholders), growth is still slow. One of the reasons posited for this is the lack of relevant infrastructure such as reliable sources of irrigation water and available of appropriate irrigation technologies on the market. Solar water pumping (SWP) seeks to address this need for smallhold farmers in off-grid areas. To date, SWP can still be considered nascent in the energy access sector. The Low Energy Inclusive Appliances programme (LEIA) aims to accelerate the availability, affordability, efficiency, and performance of a range of low energy inclusive appliances (including SWPs) particularly suited to developing context.

The goal of the project was to work together with the industry player, Simusolar, to surface information about markets, consumers, and potential impacts that would inform the solar water pump sector, including farmer segments, use cases, and potential impacts. A key assumption is that the absence of this information is a deterrent to development of the sector. Simusolar’s own experience has been that, without market intelligence, it is difficult to mobilize capital to commence a pilot, much less scale distribution and financing.

The project surveyed smallhold farmers and sector experts to help the SWP sector more broadly to find new customers, design products that meet the customers’ needs, and track the impacts of SWPs. Key areas of inquiry included market segmentation (how should farmers be segmented), alternative solutions, farmer perceptions of the solutions, farmer economics, and farmer impact of adopting solar water pump technology. The geographies covered were the Northern Highlands, Central Region, and Morogoro regions of Tanzania, all of which are known well to our industry partner. Moreover, the project is testing a methodology that can potentially be replicated across other geographies.

A draft report of the project findings will be available for peer review in mid-October 2018 with a final report expected in early November 2018.

Solar Milling Field Deployment and Research in sub-Saharan Africa

In agricultural-based economies of sub-Saharan Africa, grains (particularly maize) are typically the staple food crop. Typically, mills in off-grid areas are fuel-powered and, as a result, they have high operating costs and the potential for negative environmental impacts (e.g. pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from diesel generators). Off-grid grain milling has the potential to increase farming efficiency, increase farmer revenue, and promote food security. However, where off-grid (solar) mills have been tried, the available technology has been found to be inappropriate for the intended use case and no technologies have emerged that can compete with the incumbent.

This project will define a variety of use cases of off-grid milling, provide a deep dive comparison of technologies and energy provision typologies, and test data collection methodology that could inform actors in the solar milling sector in Africa. The expectation is that the provision of this information will mobilize off-grid milling companies to understand and address the potential market, and provide data on this market to off-grid energy providers and other distributors that are considering expanding their appliance portfolios to include solar milling appliances.

The project methodology is the pilot deployment of a new energy efficient maize miller developed by Agsol, a solar milling company whose founders have over 20 year experience in grain milling in developing countries. The project will first undertake Functional testing of Agsol mills in a lab setting to define optimal technical parameter for field deployment. The second phase will involve the deployment of at least 10 mills in a variety of deployment modes to collect data and market intelligence on customer segments and acquisition, product design and functionality, and socioeconomic impacts of off-grid mills. Key areas of inquiry include technology mapping to use cases and energy production types, operator perceptions of the solutions, operator economics, and operator and end user impact of adopting off-grid milling technology.

The Functional test are underway, and results for the second iteration are expected in November 2018.