11 December 2013

Innovation Challenge 2013


The Innovation Challenge was launched on 3rd September, and ended on 15th November. The challenge was different - it invited submissions from all over the world to do something unique, something that could transform the way our agricultural sector functions.

So what did we crack at the end of the challenge? We got three designs for a solar water pump which will be prototyped in the farms of Bihar next year.

Why did we need it?

Water pumps in Bihar farmlands are mainly run on diesel. A fuel that increases the cost of crops significantly as the prices rise very frequently. In a financial squeeze, farmers are forced to abandon their land and move to city slums to look for other work. Meanwhile, diesel engine emissions accelerate global warming, and extreme climate events like super floods and mega droughts further threaten farmers' fragile livelihoods.

What did we ask for?

Renewable technology in water pumping is fairly untapped. There are solar pumps available in the market, but none which meet the economic and social criteria.

What did we get?

Three amazing designs from different parts of the world! The Innovation Challenge got over 1,500 participants from 58 countries and our total number of submissions was over 200!

The winners are in Patna, Bihar today. They are super excited about their design making it to the farms of Bihar. Here's what they had to say:

Winner, Eric Jensen (Canada)

"I am very happy to have participated in the challenge. I wanted to create a design which can be easily constructed and assembled. The open style of challenge was very helpful. Comments and feedback from participants, jury and others helped my design become what it is. I look forward to seeing a prototype of this solar pump in Bihar."

1st runner up, Vivek (India)

"When the challenge started 3 months ago, we had the basic challenge of the pump working on 1 horse power. We started improving the design as the time went by. We finally came up with a design which is reliable, accessible and available in the market."

Greenpeace: How did you find the open style innovation challenge?

"The open challenge was indeed a fresh way of approaching competitions and challenges. We were keenly observing the comments, ratings and many thousand views on my profile constantly. The comments and feedback helped me a lot to evolve my design from what it was originally.

I personally believe this product is going to have a social impact more than anything else I have seen, because it enables a farmer to grow 2 or 3 crops in a year – instead of one crop that they are used to. Without using diesel pumps he is going to be saving a lot of money, which will enable him to break the poverty cycle, hence leading to a better lifestyle.

Several farmers end up in the city to search for employment leaving their family behind. If their agricultural fields make enough profits then secondary effects will kick in – for example, migration to urban cities will be controlled. Also because it's a 1 horse power pump, it makes it affordable to the small marginal farmer and will enable him to pay back the loan of 1 lakh in a year, and break free from the debt cycle."

2nd runner up: Balázs Gábor Nagy (Hungary)

"A friend of mine told me about the challenge. I am primarily interested in renewable energy technology. I do not work in this domain, I am an engineer working in TV production, but working on renewable technology is my hobby.

I found the challenge very interesting. I did the research on my own, for example, I called the solar pump manufacturers in India, China, Italy – to understand how to design a pump. I had prior knowledge of the technology before but needed some more insight to come with a new design. It was fairly a straightforward challenge. You have a panel, pump, I had to match them together."

Greenpeace: How did you find the open style innovation challenge?

"It was interesting, I used the information, mainly the feedback – my final design was quite different from the inception of the first idea. I used the platform to connect with Vivek and Jensen after the final submission of my design. I am not the kind of person thinking about the money, it is important that these farmers will get a usable product. I am not thinking of commercializing the product myself. I would be happy if someone uses my idea. I used this challenge as a learning process."