Grassroots Innovation in Tunisia

By: Viktoria Geng and Moritz Göldner

Background/Project Development

In April 2013, a delegation of the Institute for Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) at Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) conducted the “Innovation Lab – Grassroots Innovation” at the National Engineering School of Tunis (ENIT). The workshop was part of the TEMPUS-PARENIS project, funded by the European Commission. The participants of this full-day workshop were both, researchers and practice experts.

Various innovations from Tunisia were presented, out of which one of the most promising ideas was the “Solar Water Heater from Ouled Ayar”. Launched five years ago in a Tunisian village called Ouled Ayar, the project aims to improve the local familys’ every-day life.

Description of the Innovation

Like in ordinary solar water heaters, the solar collector contains an absorber placed under a piece of glass in order to obtain a greenhouse effect. The water, coming from the storage tank, circulates in the heat exchanger’s copper pipes below the absorber and captures the heat of the sun. Then, water returns to the storage tank with no need to pumping. In fact, the temperature gradient creates a density gradient, which is enough to ensure a water circulation in the heat exchanger pipes.

The prototype of the solar water heater has been constructed by a local craftsman; it has been successfully used for several years.

Further Development and Collaboration with TUHH

In order to elaborate the commercialization potential of the Ouled Ayar Solar Water Heater, a junior research student came to Hamburg to work closely with the Center for Frugal Innovations at TIM-TUHH. He worked closely together with Prof. Dr. Cornelius Herstatt, Dr. Stephan Buse, Dr. Rajnish Tiwari, and the authors of this report (Viktoria Geng and Moritz Göldner). The ENIT-student conducted a frugality examination consisting of 5 main factors: Fit with the Environment, Scalability, Affordability, Value Proposition and User Friendliness.

The insightful analysis confirmed the potential for a solar water heater in the rural areas of Tunisia on the one hand. On the other hand, deficits in the design but also in the business case have been identified. Especially, the market entry barriers were examined in detail.

In future, the ENIT-team will proceed with the research and prepare a commercialization strategy for the Solar Water Heater from Ouled Ayar. The team of the TIM institute of TUHH will continue to support the group in Tunis with their knowledge in Grassroot Innovations, e.g. a collaborative fundraising is planned for spring 2014 as well as joint project work of German and Tunisian students. Together, both teams will help to ensure the sustainability of the TEMPUS-PARENIS project and strive for the contribution in enhancing the quality of life for many families in rural areas in Tunisia.