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Solar to Power Largest Sustainable Water Treatment Project in Tanzania

Solar-powered pumping is outpacing the productivity and sustainability of alternative methods.

In early June, Water Mission shipped 780 solar panels to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as part of the world’s largest solar-powered, safe water treatment project. Our massive project will serve over 250,000 Congolese and Burundian people living in three refugee settlements in Western Tanzania.

The SolarWorld panels specified for the massive-scale engineering project are critical for the long-term success and operation of the installed systems that will keep safe water flowing for the refugees.

In December 2016, Water Mission and the Poul Due Jensen Foundation (the Grundfos Foundation) announced our plans to provide solar-powered, safe water access to the refugees, 40 percent of whom are children. The $5.3 million project, funded by the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, draws collaborative partners together, including with the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to support improved health and living standards in the Nyarugusu, Nduta, and Mtendeli refugee settlements.

A young boy drinks safe water produced by the largest solar powered safe water treatment system.
“The Western Tanzania project will showcase that solar pumping is a durable, affordable, and cost-saving solution, particularly in rural regions that are difficult to service and maintain,” says Christian Hartvig, Executive Director of the Poul Due Jensen Foundation. “We look forward to sharing our approach and results with other water implementing organizations and helping to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goal six.”

Quality Solar Panels Required for Sustainable Solution

The goal for the overall project is to pump 100 percent of the water using solar power with diesel generators as backup. Since 2010, we have relied on SolarWorld panels for our projects in some of the world’s most remote and harsh conditions because of their high quality and durability compared to other less expensive panels that have been tested or used on projects.

Read more about our solar pumping solutions at watermission.org/solar.

While quality installation is vital, solar pumping solutions do not require a complex wiring system. Our Tanzanian staff trains local operators on system maintenance as part of its overall community development and education program. Since Water Mission began using solar-powered pumping in 2010, our engineering and community development teams have shown that the technology is more beneficial and manageable because it requires less technical expertise than costly diesel fuel generators.

“In the hundreds of projects that I have worked on, we have never had a service call for a defective SolarWorld panel.  The company provides a level of confidence that’s hard to quantify because we wouldn’t be able to effectively maintain other unreliable power sources.”

– Will Furlong, Water Mission’s Regional Director of Tanzania

The recent shipment of 780 panels headed for Tanzania will produce 226,000 watts of power to provide a continuous supply of safe water to keep children, particularly between the ages of zero and five years old, from getting sick and dying from water borne diseases. 

Each solar panel in the recent shipment yields 290 watts of power at a cost per watt that makes upfront capital expenditures affordable. Our conservative estimate shows that the cost of the entire solar- powered, safe water treatment project will be recovered in approximately nine years by eliminating operating and maintenance expenses associated with diesel generators. Also, projections indicate that an additional $1.3M will be saved over the next 15 years.

Safe water flows from the world's largest solar-powered treatment system located in Nyarugusu, Tanzania.

“I believe that the longevity of each panel will surpass the company’s 20-year product warranty. Once the panels are installed, they run continuously at essentially zero cost. Based on the excellent quality and reliability of SolarWorld panels, we can’t afford not to use them on our projects because people need safe water to survive. Lives depend on them,” says Furlong.

Project Status and Expected Schedule

Phase one of the three-year project entails retrofitting nine existing boreholes in the Nyarugusu and Mtendeli settlements with Grundfos’ renewable, solar-pumping technologies. The studies, design, and solar installations at the nine wells will be completed by the end of 2017.

Groundwater studies are also underway to inform the design and placement of up to 30 additional boreholes that are needed to complete the remainder of the work in all three settlements. Drilling of new wells will begin in January 2018. Water Mission and Grundfos engineering and management staff will start to equip the additional wells with solar pumps and water treatment systems in July 2018. Water Mission anticipates that at least five additional 40 ft. containers full of solar panels will be required to complete the project.

The largest safe water treatment system located in Nyarugusu, Tanzania.

History of Partnership and Work in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp
Since 2008, Water Mission has installed over 1,000 solar-powered, safe water solutions in community-managed projects in developing countries around the world. These solar-powered systems remain in operation, and the technology is used in the majority of new Water Mission projects. In the fall of 2015, UNICEF Tanzania and UNHCR requested that Water Mission conduct an assessment of the water needs in the Nyarugusu refugee settlement. Water Mission coordinated an immediate response to serve more than 25,000 Burundian refugees, resulting in one of the nonprofit organization’s largest safe water treatment projects since it was founded in 2001.

To track the progress of the Tanzania Project, follow on Twitter @water_mission @UNHCRTanzania and #nyarugusu.