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LEARNING PAPER: THE CHALLENGES OF FIELD-TESTING OFF-GRID REFRIGERATORS

Since 2017, within the UK Aid-funded Ideas to Impact programme, IMC, Energy 4 Impact and CLASP have been testing off-grid refrigerators submitted by global manufacturers to determine efficiency, reliability and design appropriateness for off-grid users.

Friday 25 January 2019, Lorenza Geronimo

Ideas to Impact programme (I2I), funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by IMC Worldwide, is testing whether prizes can induce innovative solutions to development challenges in low-income countries. Target areas include climate change adaptation and access to energy, water and sanitation.

Within the energy access theme, the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition aims to encourage the development of off-grid energy-efficient refrigerators that are affordable and suitable for communities in areas without access to electricity. Since 2017, IMC Worldwide, Energy 4 Impact and CLASP have been testing off-grid refrigerators submitted by global manufacturers to determine efficiency, reliability and design appropriateness for off-grid users. The competition shortlisted 24 models from 57 submissions, based on energy and performance efficiency.

The submitted products with a capacity range of 50L-212L were grouped into three categories: refrigerators, refrigerators-freezer combinations and freezers. Most products are already commercially available but the competition also accepted those at development stage. To have a comprehensive evaluation of the products, the tests were conducted in two stages:

  • Laboratory (lab) tests in the Netherlands– testing innovation and general performance (two prizes were awarded, each worth US$ 200,000, one for demonstrated market-leading advancement in energy efficiency and the other for overall value).
  • Field tests in Uganda – testing user experience and design appropriateness (prize US$ 200,000).

The competition presented a good opportunity to compare available products and provide feedback to manufacturers on areas of improvement from a technical and design perspective. Running the competition involved multiple experts, countries, products and technologies. The results will guide the industry towards better designed off-grid refrigerators and the prize will serve as catalytic fund for further research and development of the winning product.

The laboratory tests in the Netherlands were straightforward as similar tests had already been conducted. The standards, protocols and parameters are readily available in the industry, while the controlled environment reduces shortfalls. The parameters included
stabilisation levels at steady-state operation, product autonomy, pull down, and freezing capacity among others. The second leg of the competition, however, was conducted in a non-controlled environment. Moreover, it involved global and local logistical coordination, use of advanced technologies in rural settings and identification of unique parameters to evaluate fridge performance, user experience and design appropriateness.

This paper summarises some of the challenges faced during the second stage, and how the team worked around them, ensuring the competition remained fair and relevant. The main challenges were concentrated in three areas:

  • Testing Methodology: With little precedent for off-grid refrigerator testing available, we had to both develop a vanguard methodology from scratch and continually improve its protocol and evaluation criteria to account for new insights gained through learning.
  • Data Collection: Finding suitable shop owners to test the fridges and sourcing appropriate remote sensing technologies that could capture the data required without failure proved difficult.
  • Logistics: Compliance with Ugandan shipping and labelling proved difficult, particularly when information on proper labelling procedure was not made available to the public. The team also experienced challenges transporting the fridges to their remote testing locations.

Click here to read the learning paper. 

Cover photo: Nabukenya Resty likes that her solar refrigerator does not consume too much energy compared to traditional fridges.
Credit: Efficiency for Access/CLASP.

Text: Lorenza Geronimo, Ideas to Impact

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