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Toby Hammond

A new standard for the off-grid-sector? The first product with a ten-year warranty

My wife would tell you that I really hate to throw anything away. Unfortunately, for longer than my own 43 years on the planet, most of the world has been moving in the other direction. Nearly all appliances have become much cheaper to buy in real terms, but this is almost always at the expense of durability and repairability. My plumber advised me to throw away my electric shower this week rather than repair it. Another repairman tells me that a new Bosch washing machine is not as well made as a ten-year-old Bosch washing machine. A designer friend has even been asked to work on appliances for a major retailer that are engineered to fail after a certain period. Hateful stuff.

The impact of our throwaway society scarcely needs rehearsing, and my native UK is one of the worst offenders, generating around 24 kilos of waste electrical equipment per person in 2019, or a total of 1.6 million tonnes. Huge amounts of finite, valuable mined resources enter a short ‘one-way street’ which ends in landfill or incineration. The burden of both material extraction and disposal falls disproportionately on poorer countries. Future generations will hardly look kindly on such lunacy.

In our sector we should know better, but it seems to me that we are too often following the same playbook. Although solar panels themselves come with a reassuring 20+ year warranty, many ‘change the world’ solar appliances are being sold with weaselly 12-month warranties with a lot of small print. They are often supplied as non-serviceable sealed units with anti-tamper screws and very cheap components. We hope they will not fail rather than planning for when they inevitably do. Why aren’t we standing more firmly behind the sustainability of these products which we claim are doing so much good?

This month (July 2021) sees the enactment of ‘Right to repair’ legislation in both the US and the UK, obliging manufacturers to facilitate, rather than discourage the repair of their products, with similar directives already in place in the EU. These are small steps towards the ‘circular’ economy we need, but such laws are absent in our African and Asian markets.

I believe we have a moral duty to supply our off-grid customers with the most durable, robust and repairable appliances we can produce. We are hurting -not helping- our low-income customers if we sell them a short-warranty product which breaks down in a few months and for which spare parts and support are not available. That may mean they are a bit more expensive to produce...or it may not. In any case, a Dutch saying here is instructive: “goedkoop is duurkoop”, which translates simply as “cheap is expensive”, or perhaps “buy cheap, buy twice”. In the long run we are ripping off both customers and the planet if we produce poor quality machines.

I am not saying this stuff is easy, nor am I claiming that my company, Futurepump, is perfect: like everyone else, we are still learning. Our solar irrigation pumps deliver huge benefits to our customers but they operate in harsh farm conditions and have moving parts that can wear out. However our design approach has always been about simplicity, quality and longevity, and this ethos came from our inventor, Gert Jan Bom, who cut his teeth designing community water pumps in West Africa in the 1980s which are still operating to this day.

Unfortunately, we’ve also discovered that the baseline expectation of after-sales support in many of the African countries where we work is essentially zero. Farmers in particular are used to being entirely on their own when their machines break down. We’ve found we need to reach out more proactively to our customers to check if they are happy, and learn from our mistakes if there is room for improvement.

So at Futurepump we’ve decided it’s time to take a bold stand on this issue. As of today we are increasing our warranty to a ten-year no-quibble guarantee. Anyone who buys our solar pumps (or is one of the 9,000+ customers who has already bought a pump under our previous five-year warranty) is now entitled to a full ten years parts and labour warranty. Every single spare part will be available free of charge via our distributors and from our factory. Full details of our warranty promises are here: www.futurepump.com/warranty

We are doing this because we know our product is very reliable, and easy to maintain, and we are doing it to demonstrate we are here for the long term for our customers. But mostly, we’re doing it because it is simply the right thing to do.

Today we are also issuing a challenge to the wider off-grid solar sector. Why can’t you do this too? Which other manufacturers of off-grid solar equipment will join us in also offering a no-quibble ten-year warranty to their customers?