In late January, the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition, which is part of the UK Aid-funded Ideas to Impact programme, announced the winners of two innovation prizes alongside best-in-class products in five size categories.
A third innovation prize for appropriate design and user experience will be awarded later this year following field testing of the refrigerators in Uganda.
SunDanzer, a US-based company, won both innovation awards with two different refrigerator models: SunDanzer’s DCR50 and DCR165 won for overall value and energy efficiency, respectively.
In the interview which follows, which was conducted by Maurice Kent, Programme & Investment Officer at Scaling Off-Grid Energy, and originally published at www.scalingoffgrid.org, founder and CEO of SunDanzer David Bergeron discusses the competition. He talks about the role incentives played in his company's participation, design, and development process, and where he sees the market for refrigerators like SunDanzer's going forward:
David, could you tell me more about why you applied to the Global LEAP competition? What were you hoping to get out of it?
The incentives played a major factor in our decision to apply and improve our devices. Beyond the monetary value, we sought increased exposure for our devices, both to the public and directly to potential buyers. We have been interested in the off-grid household and small business market for a long time, and the Global LEAP Awards presented a great opportunity to connect with major players in that market.
Has SunDanzer participated in a competition like this before, with rigorous lab-testing and follow-on results-based finance opportunities?
No, nothing quite like this, although we’ve received grants and awards from various organisations, including USAID’s Powering Agriculture in the past.
I understand that you were previously designing high-efficiency products for use by the World Health Organization and not for small micro-enterprise or domestic use, like many of the customers that would use a Global LEAP award-winning device. Can you tell me more about how the prize changed your research and development or business plans?
We’ve been selling household, commercial, medical, and military solar fridges for almost 20 years, but never reached the price point to make the product successful in the small solar home system market. The prize signalled interest from this market in having devices at this price point, so we decided to try to meet that call. With this award and the additional exposure, I hope to reach the balance of price and energy efficiency necessary to sell products into the solar home systems (SHS) market. It was great to meet with some of the major SHS retailers at the GOGLA event, including Mobisol, BBOXX, Off-Grid Electric, Simusolar, Solaris Off-Grid and Omnivoltaic.
What are your next steps for the (award-winning) DCR50 and DCR165 models? Any field tests or additional design tweaks?
I need to work on reducing the cost and getting the product even further into the market. I also need to work on mitigating the [value-added tax] and duties in countries where SHS retailers are working. As it stands, we can sell the DCR165 for under $500/unit and the DCR50 for under $400 in container-level volumes. For purchases over 1,000 units, we can get those price-points below $400 and $325, respectively. I’d like to get those below $225 for both devices, and we’re working with our suppliers to find ways to do so.
How are the DCR50 and DCR165, and SunDanzer’s products as a whole, different than others on the market?
We use a number of key components that create market-leading efficiency, including a zero-maintenance DC compressor and a patented low-frost system to reduce frost and moisture build up.
Do you envision continuing to grow a low-cost, high-efficiency product line for use by low-income, rural, off-grid households around the world?
Definitely. That has been the holy grail of solar fridges for decades, and the quality of energy provision from things like solar home systems is converging with improvements in technologies like ours. We definitely see this as a growth market for us.
Lastly, do you envision any applications for the DCR50 or DCR165 for customers living in places like the U.S.? – for camping or those who want to move off-grid?
Yes, we sell some of our devices to those customers now, but the redesigns from this competition should expand our ability to address domestic markets as well.
SunDanzer’s journey and participation in the Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition is a promising example of public-private interaction and shows how public prizes can push the private sector to drastically improve technology performance, enter new markets and build collaborations with other entities that they may not have otherwise pursued.
Learn more about SunDanzer’s refrigerators as well as the other finalists in the Global LEAP Awards Buyer’s Guide.
Cover photo: From left, Steven Hunt, Senior Energy Innovation Advisor, UK Department for International Development (DFID), David Bergeron, founder and CEO of award-winning SunDanzer Refrigeration Inc., and Andrew Herscowitz, Coordinator of USAID’s Power Africa, at the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo in Hong Kong in January 2018.