According to a 2017 UNICEF declaration, over 57 million Nigerians lack access to potable water supply.
Additionally, available alternatives — such as drinking water from rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and irrigation canals — are prone to water borne diseases, which cause the deaths of about 130,000 children annually, according to World Health Organisation.
But how unpleasant is the situation given that more than half of the 57 million people, believed to lack access to portable water supply, live in rural areas with no access to electricity supply?
These rural communities habour farmers who solely rely on rainfall for their farming activities and are idle during the dry season since they lack access to power supply. In Nigeria, that’s about 40 million farmers.
Understanding the inherent dangers — health and business wise — that lie within for these rural dwellers, Matthias Ameh felt the best approach was solar electrification.
But after realising the cost implication of procuring expensive solar water pumps — that would enable dry season irrigation farming practice — he came up with the idea of building an “inverter” that can power any type of conventional alternating current (AC) surface and submersible water pumps directly from solar panels without batteries.
“Over the years, I have seen how people leaving in rural areas with no access to electricity supply go through challenges of non-access to potable water supply and can’t afford procuring expensive solar water pumps either for irrigation farming or community water supply,” Matthias explains.
Spunvertek, the name of the product, as described, provides surface water alternative for irrigation farming, public and community water supply, as well livestock water needs.
Being an interverter that it is, Spunvertek is a product on its own. But it allows for integration with existing conventional water pumps, for those who already have and only want to combine theirs with Spunvertek.
So a whole system comprises of the Spunvertek solar water pump inverter, the conventional submersible or surface pump and the solar panels. However, the solar panels and the pumps (submersible or surface) are external products that need the Spunvertek inverter to achieve their aim.
Interestingly, from the circuit board design, simulation, to assembling of components and chips, everything about Spunvertek (Matthias’ solar inverter), is done locally.
“We also wrote the programme codes for the micro-controller used in our inverter,” he adds.
The Spunvertek solar inverter goes for $200 but, accompanied with other accessories to make up the solar water pumping, costs $900.
Since launching in September 2018, 12 Spunvertek solar inverters have been successfully deployed to various communities within the Northern part of Nigeria.
Four of the inverters were integrated into existing boreholes in Benue State, two were bought for schools located in Jigawa State, at the Nigeria Alternative Energy Expo 2018 held in Abuja in October 2018, where Spunvertek was exhibited.
Two were sold to a community in Niger state to solve their water supply challenges, while four was sold to two different farms in Nasarawa State. All sales took place within 3 months after launch.
“Eight of the 12 products were sold as a whole system, making a total of $8800 in revenue, while 4 were just the solar inverter making a total of $800,” he explains.
Going by this figure, sales of Spunvertek inverters have generated the sum of $9600 in revenue since its launch.
With the proliferation of water pumps and other submersible water generation products, you would wonder what is unique about Spunvertek.
Matthias first highlights cost as a uniqueness.
“The cost of procuring and setting up other alternative solar water pumps is approximately $2,500 while with Spunvertek, the cost is approximately $1,100,” he says.
Also, he argues that the ROI for a regular solar water pump is 3 – 4 years while it is between 9 – 18 months with Spunvertek.
“For example, a fish pond in an off-grid location requires constant water supply. Options are either to use a generator set for water pumping or to procure expensive solar water pumps. Using the latter always costs more at initial setup and hence, the ROI on these can only be achieved after 3 – 4 years due to the cost. But with Spunvertek, the initial capital is so low that ROI can be achieved within 9 – 18 months, thus enabling a whopping 165% profit,” he clarifies.
If that is the case, farmers in rural areas can afford to practice all-year round irrigation as well as meet other water needs using Spunvertek. But like most products, there are few challenges looming.
“I occasionally encounter problems with getting the right circuit design that will suit the needs of the people that will use the products in terms of sustainability and affordability while still maintaining a standard,” says Matthias.
But this challenge is not hindering Spunvertek in its pursuit it would seem.
As of December 2018, the global market for solar water pumping was valued at $822 million. An estimated 0.1% of this figure is the market share for solar water pumping in Nigeria, making a total of $822,000. Spunvertek claims to wield 40% of this market share, amounting to $328,800.
The farmers and rural dwellers in Northern Nigeria being the indicator, as the region is considered the most underserved when it comes to access to potable water.
By 2021 Matthias is hoping to have created 3,000 and earning $300,000,000 in revenue all from deploying the Spunvertek inverter.