Proximity Designs: The Solar Pump
Core Proximity Design Team Members, 9 additional contributors
Proximity Designs is a social enterprise based in Yangon, Myanmar specializing in design & delivery of affordable, income-boosting products for rural families. Proximity Designs set out to design an irrigation pump that is cleaner and more affordable than a diesel engine pump for Myanmar’s rural smallholders, and that fits the constraints of existing infrastructure, such as limited well tube diameter. Research for this project began in the summer of 2013, and lifecycle testing was completed in mid-2015.
Methods in Action
Uncovering user needs & opportunities
Three months of intensive user research revealed the financial and environmental burden that diesel engines pose for Myanmar farmers. This research also helped define the design parameters - price points, flow rates, suction depths, durability and others - for a variable solar irrigation product. User interviews revealed that a solar-powered irrigation system could generate a significant financial impact in their lives. Proximity’s customers were the ones that ultimately confirmed the value of a solar-powered irrigation product.
Proximity engaged with students from Stanford’s “Design for Extreme Affordability” course to leverage their rapid prototyping and 3D printing capabilities to iterate quickly and advance the engineering of the pump design. With the capability to generate modified design prototypes quickly, prototypes were iterated for improvements numerous times over the 2 year of development time.
Designing for sustainability
In addition to designing the product to maximize impact for individual end users, by remaining attuned to local context during research phase, Proximity evolved the prototype further to improve durability of the original prototype, and made it manufacturable in Myanmar.
Technical innovation to fit local context
The resulting pump is unique because it is designed specifically for the Myanmar market. The pump fits into the narrow two-inch wide tube-wells commonly found in rural Myanmar. It is also likely the most affordable solar irrigation pump in the world, retailing at only USD $345, which includes two 130W solar panels. It works at a depth of 24ft and yields over 15,000 liters of water per day.
Financially, even if a farmer already has a diesel engine and chooses to replace it with a solar pump, he or she could break even in about a year in diesel cost savings alone. Lifecycle testing shows the pumps can be used for 3 years before maintenance or repairs are necessary, and every year of additional savings can generate at least USD $300 savings in household income.