It is not too often that we share details from behind-the-scenes at Futurepump and we wanted to use this opportunity for you to learn more about the engineering and people behind our products. So, we caught up with Gert Jan (virtually) to hear about his motivations, process and what’s next…!
You’ve been in this sector for about 50 years, that’s an impressive stint! How did you get into water pumping, what was your original motivation and is it the same today?
I’m sorry to say that my motivation to start this work back in the 70s was not directly to go out and make a difference… it was a way to get out of military service! I hated gym at school and once school was finished, I just saw military service looming. I found an opportunity to travel to Africa for a couple of years to volunteer with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. I wanted to travel and explore, and it was a great opportunity.
It was in Africa that I first came across the problems people were having with accessing water, this then became my motivation. I saw a problem and thought ‘perhaps I can do something about it’. That motivation to solve real problems is what still drives my work today.
What achievements within Futurepump have brought you the most joy?
I would say that the fact Futurepump came into being is the most important thing. I was designing pumps for years before 2013, but Futurepump is now selling the pumps all over the world. I get a huge satisfaction from knowing that the pumps I’m designing are getting out there and solving problems for customers. It’s only the beginning, we have more to sell, more people to reach and more pumps coming to solve different problems.
You’ve been in this game for a while now, what is the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry over this time?
The two biggest changes I’ve seen are the price of solar PV falling and the increase in communications technologies making our work possible. When I started out solar PV wasn’t even an option, it was around $80 per Watt. Now the price is less than $1 per Watt and this has made it a viable option for technologies on small farms.
The price to the end customer is the most important thing and being able to manufacture in India also makes the product cost-wise okay for the end user. But before we were able to easily communicate globally this would not have been possible, the quick feedback from field to factory would not be there. I’d have had to go and live in India for years, I think.
What’s the biggest challenge you have overcome in pump design/what challenge are you tackling now?
Over the years of working on the solar pump I’ve had different challenges to overcome. First, when the price of solar PV remained relatively high, my challenge was efficiency. The more efficient I could make the pump, the less energy it needed and the less PV.
When the price of PV became less of a limiting factor I began to focus on the environmental impact, robustness, durability and repairability of the product. We want it to be able to last in the field.
These challenges coming in stages now combine to mean we can now have a highly efficient and portable pump which is also repairable. It does not need giant solar panels which cannot be carried to the farm easily. Many pumps which are being designed now aren’t held back by the solar panel cost so have giant PV panels and are not portable at all.
A challenge I still face is always trying to design to be the lowest cost possible. If you have no care about the cost, anyone can develop a pump! But one with low costs, that’s hard. When you add the cost of manufacture, shipping, and distribution margin, you must have a very low build cost indeed to make the cost still acceptable to the farmer.
What’s next on the horizon for solar irrigation and in particular, Futurepump?
There are a range of challenges we can solve with a range of solar pumps. We already have a small range on the market, but there are more coming. There is always going to be a need for smaller, cheaper pumps to help the bottom of the pyramid customers. Then there is the need for bigger pumps to replace high flows from petrol pumps and then pumps which access deeper water.
There needs to be a continuous push for cost reduction across the solar pump industry. If we can increase volumes then cost reduction will come. For small farms, cost remains a bottleneck. The payback, although good, is hard for farmers to quantify.
I think Futurepump is in the right space, there are millions small farms and this is where the real difference can be made. Every pump we sell which is robust and repairable makes a positive impact on that farm for years to come.
Futurepump manufactures surface solar pumps suitable for up to two acres of land across a range of pumping heads. To see our full range and find out how to purchase directly from our factory, visit our webshop.