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Sustainable energy concepts in developing and emerging countries


Energy and mobility are viewed as important drivers for economic and social development (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, www.wbcsd.org). One of the three pillars at the Institute for Energy and Mobility Research (IEM) hence aims to contribute to improved living conditions in developing countries and emerging economies. Here, we present an example of sustainable energy technology developed at Bern University of Applied Sciences (BUAS) and planned mass implementation in rural India.

Improve living conditions with sustainable energy

Renewable energy technologies have a great potential in providing energy services to developing countries. Today, over 20% of the global population lack access to electricity, most of them in rural areas. Scenarios indicate that this situation will not improve until 2030 and will be prevailing in sub-Saharian Africa, India and other developing Asian countries, excluding China (IEA, 2010). In his keynote address at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (2 - 4 February 2006), Claude Mandil, Executive Director at IEA, commented: «To meet the energy demand and stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations, unprecedented technology changes must occur in this century…No single technology or policy can do it all.»

Altering technologies is also of great importance for achieving a green economy and the Millennium Goals (UNEP, 2011). These were adopted at the United Nations General Assembly Millennium Summit in 2000, and aim to improve the living conditions of the world’s poor, with an ambitious target of 2015 to realise these goals. Although there is no Millennium Development Goal related to energy, the availability of energy is a prerequisite for the realisation of many of these goals.

As an institution that adopts practices of corporate social responsibility, the Institute for Energy and Mobility Research (IEM) at Bern University of Applied Sciences (BUAS) aims to deploy sustainable energy concepts to developing and emerging countries.

To make it work, make it a business: Micro-entrepreneurs in India

For the development of rural areas, the critical issue is affordable water availability and control for crop production. Small-scale farmers mostly depend on rainwater and the wet season. During the rainy season, dumping prices on the market often don’t cover the production costs while, in the dry season, these crops can sell at a price that is up to three times higher, if irrigation is available.

In villages without electric power supply, manually-operated pumps and diesel pumps are vital for small-scale farmers to provide the badly needed additional income during the dry season. However, manually-operated pumps and treadle pumps are extremely labour intensive. Many small-scale farmers hence cannot afford irrigation, and large-scale irrigation systems mostly cover certain areas only and do not reach the fields of small producers. When the villages are connected to the grid system, electric water pumps are preferred but then, grid electricity may go off after some hours while additional nine hours of irrigation would be needed for crop production.

Diesel Pump

Harnessing solar energy for irrigation to replace part of the exhausting manual labour, avoid tremendous cost in diesel or unreliable grids can drive agriculture in rural areas. Sustainable energy concepts may also open the door to additional sources of income for the rural population (e.g., agritourism, see Raghunandan et al., 2010). The above ideas are underlying a pilot project on introducing the «Swiss Solar Water Pump» in rural India after 2012 (Schuepbach et al., 2011).

The «Swiss Solar Water Pump»

A solar water pump (termed «Swiss Solar Water Pump») was developed at IEM, using similar efficient electric motor technology as in the (i) famous «Spirit of Biel/Bienne» solar vehicle to win the race in Australia in 1990 and (ii) record-breaking electric bike «Spirit of Bike» in 2001. It is a low cost 40-120W photovoltaic water pump system for irrigation aiming at mass distribution to individuals and personal use. The pump does not need a battery and operates at the optimum efficiency even if the solar radiation is changing or is very low.
The «Swiss Solar Water Pump» is so small that the expensive parts (including panel) are transportable to avoid stealing and allow micro-entrepreneurs to move from borehole to borehole. The power output of the system has been designed to cover the needs of small farmer families for production in developing and emerging countries and dissemination with local manufacturers. The concept of local production has a double impact on the economy as it both lowers the price and creates jobs in the renewable energy business. This visionary approach is important as the cost associated with ending global energy poverty by 2030 is estimated to about $36 billion per year (IEA, 2010). Currently, 150 «Swiss Solar Water Pumps» are installed - jointly with CARITAS Switzerland and IDE-Gates - in Bangladesh (see photographs) to test whether our sustainable energy concept holds for future mass implementation.

Swiss Solar Water Pump


IEA (International Energy Agency), 2010, World Energy Outlook 2010, 731 p. (www.iea.org).
Raghunandan, A., S. Horner and E. Schuepbach, 2010, Agritourism in India – the potential for sustainable development and growth. Proceed. 28th EuroCHRIE Conference, Amsterdam, 25-28 October 2010.
Schuepbach, E., A. Vezzini, A. Müller, U. Muntwyler, Th. Anto and K. Gnanakan, 2011, Towards a Low Carbon Society in Rural India: Innovation through Female Entrepreneurs and Solar Technology, Research Proposal, 10 p.
UNEP, 2011, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, ISBN: 978-92-807-3143-9, www.unep.org/greeneconomy.