A solar pump for smallholders

Many farmers use diesel-powered pumps to irrigate their fields, especially in the world’s driest regions. ennos AG offers small farmers an alternative: a pump powered by solar energy.

In the early years of electromobility, the Ingenieurschule Biel caused a worldwide sensation with its successes with solar-powered vehicles. One result of this publicity was that, in 2006, an Indian engineer contacted Andrea Vezzini, Professor for Industrial Electronics at the school, to discuss solar powered pumps. He explained that they would be ideal for farmers in sunny climates, enabling them to irrigate their fields without using fossil fuels.

This conversation was the catalyst for the Bern University of Applied Sciences, as the engineering school is now called, to develop a solar-powered water pump. By the end of 2015, the school had a market-ready product, a surface pump that draws water from lakes and rivers. One year later, ennos AG was set up to commercialise it. CEO Karin Jeanneret Vezzini and her team gradually built up the company and established numerous contacts in the Global South. The pump is now manufactured in India, under licence, by a company that also handles part of the distribution.

Most pumps are sold directly by ennos, mainly in the East African countries of Uganda and Kenya, but also in Mali and South Africa. The company has recently started selling to a number of Latin American countries, too. ennos markets the pumps through local distributors, who sell them to small farmers. This means those countries gain jobs and expertise – ennos trains users in how to operate the irrigation devices through an online tool.

A full 6000 carbon-free solar pumps are already in use; each one saves 950 kg of CO2 a year. Demand is rising steadily, with sales doubling every year over the past few years. So far, ennos offers the pump in two sizes (0.5 and 2 hp pumping capacity), but the company is working on extending the product range to meet farmers’ needs. An accessory is already available that can determine the pump’s location by satellite radio and also block its operation if necessary. The tool, which is produced by a Ugandan company on ennos’ behalf, acts as an anti-theft device, as well as providing the basis for a pay-as-you-go model, whereby the smallholder can pay off the pump in instalments, in line with their crop yields. The distributor retains control of the pump until it is paid off.