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Member Spotlight – June 2016 | Energy Access Practitioner Network

News

Member Spotlight – June 2016

By Amanda Eller, Director of Impact, SunFarmer

Energy Access Practitioner Network member SunFarmer is bringing pioneering solar energy technologies and business models to Nepal. Since January 2014, SunFarmer has built over 120 solar energy systems at hospitals, schools, farms, and businesses across the country. In 2015, SunFarmer was selected to participate in Y Combinator, the prestigious Silicon Valley incubator program, and was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative, National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge, and the World Economic Forum.

SunFarmer started with co-founder Andy Moon’s involvement in a solar installation at an extremely remote hospital in Nepal, run by the NGO Possible Health.

SunFarmer started with co-founder Andy Moon’s involvement in a solar installation at an extremely remote hospital in Nepal, run by the NGO Possible Health.

 A focus on impact – SunFarmer’s roots in solar for healthcare

SunFarmer got started through co-founder Andy Moon’s volunteer work with an international health nonprofit, Possible Health. In 2010, Possible was gaining international recognition for their innovative approach to health in rural Nepal – the problem was that their hospital had less than two hours of grid electricity each day. They only had a small diesel generator, and it often broke down.

Andy worked with future SunFarmer team member Avishek Malla and Practitioner Network member Gham Power to install the first solar energy system at Possible’s hospital. Possible is now one of SunFarmer’s major partners; SunFarmer has electrified 16 of their health clinics and has started the installation of a 100 kW array at their hospital, which will be one of the ten largest solar energy systems in Nepal.

Over the next 12 year, SunFarmer has contracts in place to electrify 20 large health clinics, and has a partnership in place with Practitioner Network member We Care Solar to provide solar for lighting and small appliance charging at 130 additional clinics in Nepal.

The 2015 Nepal Earthquakes

In April 2015, disaster struck Nepal – two earthquakes devastated cities and rural villages alike, topping out at 7.8 on the Richter scale. Over 9,000 people perished and 800,000 buildings were destroyed, including health clinics, schools, and community centers.

SunFarmer and many other solar energy companies sprang into action; SunFarmer was able to raise over US$150,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from organizations such as SunEdison, Northland Power, Simpa and Silver Spring Networks. SunFarmer provided solar energy systems ranging from 40W to 250W for solar energy charging and water purifications to over 75 community centers. In addition, SunFarmer distributed over 1,250 solar lanterns, and is planning to install an additional 200 community projects in 2016, thanks to a recent donation.

Expansion to agriculture

Recognizing that nearly 70% of Nepal’s people work in agriculture, yet the country is a net importer of food due to inefficient production, SunFarmer decided to provide solar services for agriculture in late 2015. One of the major barriers to agricultural productivity is a lack of water – farmers rely on unpredictable rains to provide their crops with water during Nepal’s eight-month dry season. During these months, they are unable to grow high-value crops such as vegetables and often do not have sufficient water for their livestock and fish ponds.

Farmers that gain access to reliable irrigation are typically able to increase their incomes by 100% to 200%. However, existing irrigation solutions are not ideal; hand pumps are labor-intensive, electric pumps are unreliable due to frequent grid blackouts and inconsistent voltage which can damage pumps, and diesel pumps are expensive and unreliable due to frequent fuel shortages.

SunFarmer realized that solar-powered water pumps are often the perfect solution for farmers; however, farmers are currently unable to pay the upfront cost, and do not have enough trust in the technology to immediately sign up. So, SunFarmer created a new model whereby farmers pay a small upfront payment, then pay off their solar-powered water pump in affordable monthly installments over a 3-year period. After three years, they fully own the equipment.

Ram Prasad Regmi was one of SunFarmer’s first agriculture customers in Chitwan, Nepal. He uses the water to irrigate vegetables, provide water to his livestock, and meet household needs. Previously his family used a manual hand pump. Since installing solar, Ram’s cows have gone from producing ten liters of milk per day to twelve.

Ram Prasad Regmi was one of SunFarmer’s first agriculture customers in Chitwan, Nepal. He uses the water to irrigate vegetables, provide water to his livestock, and meet household needs. Previously his family used a manual hand pump. Since installing solar, Ram’s cows have gone from producing ten liters of milk per day to twelve.

Since February, SunFarmer has installed 15 solar-powered water pumps under this “rent-to-own” financing scheme, and it is on track to install over 100 solar-powered water pumps by the end of the year. Central to this model are partnerships with local NGOs, which ensure that farmers are using productive farming techniques and that they will be able to sell their crops in the market after harvesting.

Focus on innovation – for both solar technology and solar business models

Since launching in Nepal, SunFarmer has been committed to introducing new solar technologies and solar business models to make solar reliable and affordable for its customers. Some of the innovations SunFarmer has pioneered in Nepal include:

  • Completion of the first solar power purchase agreement (PPA) in Nepal, with customers in the health sector,
  • Completion of the first “rent-to-own” financing for solar-powered water pumps for farmers,
  • Development of SunFarmer’s own energy monitoring system, to bring increased transparency and improved maintenance to its customers,
  • Ongoing work with engineering partners to develop lower-cost solar-powered water pumping systems that will be appropriate for SunFarmer customers in Nepal.

In addition, SunFarmer is committed to helping train the next generation of solar engineers in Nepal – its local company, SunFarmer Nepal, is over 90% staffed by Nepali nationals, and the SunFarmer team is proud to have trained and employed some of the best solar engineers in the country.

Where we go from here

Solar energy can often be the most reliable and affordable source of energy in developing countries, and SunFarmer is dedicated to making solar a meaningful part of Nepal’s energy mix.

In 2017, SunFarmer plans to bring the products and expertise it has developed in Nepal to a second country – and would love to hear from potential partners about countries where we can collaborate and work together.

As part of our efforts to expand to a second country, SunFarmer US, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, will be raising a philanthropic funding round to raise money to fund our expansion. SunFarmer would also be happy to talk to organizations that are interested in partnering with us to bring energy to the most remote corners of the world.

SunFarmer3

CM and Maya Mahato are vegetable farmers in Chitwan, Nepal. Before the SunFarmer project, they used a manual hand pump to water their crops, and could only grow enough for household consumption.

For further details on SunFarmer, visit www.sunfarmer.org.