We’re pleased to announce that the Sustainable Engineering Lab has been awarded a two-year, $1.1M innovation grant to establish three smart solar irrigation pilot projects in the Millennium Village of Potou, in rural northern Senegal. The grant is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the Swedish Government, Duke Energy, and the German Organization for International Cooperation (GIZ) as part of the Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development Initiative.

Irrigation is critical to agricultural success, but in Senegal, this task is usually done by hand and can take all day. High fuel costs make gasoline pumps unaffordable and initial investment costs of stand-alone solar are too high for small scale farmers. The Sustainable Engineering Lab’s goal is to reduce the price of energy for smallholder irrigation farmers by introducing solar PV as a reliable and cost-effective energy alternative. The key innovation is the use of a centralized PV power production center to provide electricity to a network of farmers along individual distribution lines, in the form of a micro-utility that provides energy for pumping and other uses. Customers will access energy using a pre-paid system, similar to that of SharedSolar, ensuring that farmers pay only for what they consume.

Brett Gleitsmann, our Water Systems Specialist has already made a site visit to Potou to discuss and plan with local farmers and the lab has started working with various power electronics suppliers in India and elsewhere to design the innovative power sharing solution.