The scope and applications of solar power go much beyond just grid based electricity generation. Now, its applications are widely used in agriculture, cooking, heating, cold storage, water purifiers and a range of different fields. The fast developing solar market is now making swift inroads in some of the new areas which were untapped by it previously. One such target area having lots of potential is the agriculture sector. Progressive farmers are now utilizing this free and abundantly available gift from nature to increase their productivity and it is believed in days to come solar energy is going to replace all other existing energy sources.
Solar Powered Irrigation
It is estimated that around two third of groundwater in India is used for irrigation purpose. Most of the minor irrigation systems in India are pump based. And so, the technology which can use the free and abundantly available solar power to pump water into farms has come as a boon to the farmers.
Solar powered irrigation system has emerged as a promising solution to India’s energy crisis and erratic power supply, especially in the agriculture sector which requires a lot of water. Moreover, with the Diesel prices touching the sky, solar Power provides an attractive option for Individuals and commercial establishments to avail the benefits of this smart energy resource. A growing number of farmers and companies are now switching to solar solutions for their captive power needs. It’s affordability, accessibility and minimal impact on environment has created high demand for solar pumps in the irrigation field. They are a good choice, since they don’t require fuel, or batteries and they can be used anywhere the sun is shining.
From farming to gardening, providing water to cattle, or pumping a well, solar pumps can be used for a variety of purposes. They are a clean energy solution to the traditional combustible fuel based pumps. And since they use freely available sunlight and not any fuel, they leave no waste, keeping the environment cleaner and greener.
Water pumping is an activity which consumes large amount of energy. Traditionally, diesel and electricity used to be the only energy sources for driving water pumps. But now with solar water pumps, irrigating the fields have become much affordable and easier. Solar energy, which is abundantly available in India, can be used for pumping water through the Solar-PV technology. These pumps are gaining popularity, especially in the areas where electricity is either unavailable or unreliable. Solar PV pumps are becoming a preferred choice in remote locations to replace hand-pumps, grid-connected electrical pumps and diesel pumps.
Economically also, the solar pumps are becoming more viable with their prices coming down rapidly due to competition in the market. A number of established companies as well as start-ups are striving to capture the market of solar pumps resulting in a price war. Moreover, the subsidy provided by the government of India, is making the system further cheaper for the consumers.
“The solar pump market in India is growing rapidly and holds attractive prospects. In fact, we can attribute this growth to initiatives taken by government in terms of tax exemptions and subsidies.” Sundeep Gupta, the Joint Managing Director of Jakson Group says.
How it works
The solar pump technology has developed over the time and now caters to different needs. It can be customized according to the capacity required and needs. But the basic design is same. The solar pump sets are attached to the water source. The pump’s solar panel converts the solar energy into electrical power, which runs the motor to pump water.
A Solar PV water pumping systems is an electric pump running on electricity generated by a solar photovoltaic array.
Components of a solar PV water pumping system:
Solar PV Array: The Solar PV array is a set of photovoltaic modules connected in series and possibly strings of modules connected in parallel.
Controller: The Controller is an electronic device which matches the PV power to the motor and regulates the operation of the pump according to the input from the solar PV array.
Pump Set: Pump sets generally comprise of the motor, which drives the operation and the actual pump, which moves the water under pressure.
Solar powered water pumps can perform a number of tasks including delivering drinking water as well as water for livestock or irrigation purposes. They are especially useful in small scale or community based irrigation. For large scale irrigation which requires large volumes of water, a large solar PV array is needed. As the water may only be required during some parts of the year, a large PV array would provide additional energy which can be used for other purposes as well.
The payback period for solar pump is between 3-5 years depending on the capacity and its usage. With diesel price expected to go up further, return time for investments in solar pump will also come down for farmers.
Solar pump manufacturing companies are now aggressively targeting the rural India. Solar power solution providers are also upbeat on account of 30% subsidy offered by the renewable energy ministry to the farmers opting for solar pumps. Solar Pumps have a life of 25 years. The pumps also come with low maintenance which helps in recovering the cost earlier.
Blessed with solar power in abundance, rural India is now progressively utilizing it for irrigation. The cost of photovoltaic panels that have reduced by half since the start of India’s ambitious Jawahar Lal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. The maintenance requirements differ and range between annual and five year maintenance intervals.
Technology of future
Buoyant by the response from market and industries , the government is now planning to swap the existing groundwater pumps for solar pumps. As per estimates, Rs.10,000 crores will be invested in the next five years to exchange around 2 Lakhs traditional water pumps with solar pumps. The investment is also coming with great returns for the government. This will save farmers from power shortages and rising fuel prices. Dependency on solar will relieve the power transmission grid, which is already overburdened. But most importantly it will save government billions of dollars it is spending on fuel subsidies. If the initiative is successful, the government may also consider reducing fuel and electricity subsidies in a phased manner, which at present are almost bleeding the country’s exchequer. Financing renewable sources comes with much more cost benefits in long run than spending money on fuel subsidies.
Just recently, India approved 3 billion rupees in subsidies to help farmers install solar-powered water pumps to boost agricultural yields and reduce expensive diesel fuel use. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has decided to provide grants to install 17,500 irrigation pumping systems by 2016 to be funded by a carbon tax on coal. The Solar PV water Pumping Systems will be installed in states of Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and other selected States to meet the irrigation requirements, 15% of the project cost has to be met by the states and the rest will be provided by the Centre.
“Power based water pumps cannot be relied on as in India we have huge electricity shortage. Farmers don’t get electricity at the time it is required. Sometimes electricity comes during night time and sometimes they don’t get it at all. So for them also switching to solar is beneficial” Tarun Kapoor, Joint Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the in charge of the solar programme says.
“Switching to solar is easy., pumps are already there. You just need to install the PV system and switch to solar.We have different types of pumps for example of 5 HP and 3HP” he further adds.
And because solar pumps will save a lot of electricity, it can be be used for other purposes and villages will get more electricity.
“The total power availability in villages will increase. People will be able to use this power for education purpose or even for watching TV. Our experience says that solar pumps are transforming rural India in big way.They have big socioeconomic benefits. Farmer will be able to get reliable water supply that will also improve the food security of the country” Pankaj Som Chaturvedi whose company TRA International is involved in the solar pump installation says.
“Considering the immense availability of solar power in India and considering very high co-relation with the demand, we can say that solar pumps are ideally suited for irrigation purposes in India’s agricultural heartlands, under-electrified Gangetic plains in particular. The use of solar pumps for irrigating fields can help in decreasing the diesel consumption, will make farmers less depended upon grid electricity, optimize the water consumption, thus increasing the crop yield. Overall, this scenario seems very promising for the agricultural sector.” Sundeep Gupta, Joint Managing Director, Jakson Group says.
This massive pump exchange scheme can also help India in scoring points in the global climate change negotiations. Pumps based on Diesel and electricity are big contributors to the green house gas emission and thus causing global warming. Initiating world’s biggest program of this kind will be a showcase of India’s commitment towards mitigation.
Solar pumping may have far-reaching impacts on agriculture in India, where monsoon rains dictate sowing cycles. For example, in states like Rajasthan and Gujarat which are water-stressed, solar pumps may mean end of woes for farmers as these states receive good radiation.
States are also realizing the importance of solar pumps and have come up with their own schemes in addition to the centre sponsored schemes to woo farmers.
“ I am pleased to see the interest that the states are taking in this initiative.Some states have also come with their own subsidy policy for solar pumps. Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharshtra and Punjab have taken this initiative in a big way” Kapoor Says.
With both states and consumers opting for solar pumps the future looks bright. “The response is good. Its picking up.I am not saying that we are very close to the numbers that we have targeted but , but at least it is a good beginning. Earlier the number of pumps installed in India were just few hundreds. Now at least we have demands of several thousands. It’s a good take off” a hopeful Kapoor says.
For Anand Choudhary, a farmer in Bihar who has switched to solar pumping hopes to recover the investment in two years.
“ Water is crucial for our livelihood. We used to perform rituals for good monsoon. We had to travel long distance to get diesel for water pumps.Life is much easier now” he says.
Solar pumps have not only benefited Jatin but also his kids who earlier had to go to fields even in mid night to switch on the pumps.
“ The power in our village often comes during night time. So we had to go to the farm at that time only to switch on the pumps. There are risks of insects and snake bites in night. It used to take a lot of time and we often got late for school” His 14 year old son Sunil says, who now goes to school on time. In ecologically sensitive places, solar energy are also wildlife friendly as they produce no noise.In traditional systems, the noise produced by the pumps are a big menace for animals and birds.
“If we are successful in achieving the numbers that we are targeting it will change the way we look at agriculture. It will also be of huge convenience for farmers.He will be able to get the water in daytime and will also save a lot of money by not using diesel.” Kapoor says
It’s All Economics
High subsidies on diesel and electricity in India weighs heavily on our current account balance. Researches have shown that even after spending so much as to bleed the economy these subsidies do not fulfill their purpose as they are both insufficient and inequitable. Moreover the fuel subsidies generally pull out money from high-priority public spending sectors such as health and education. Cutting down fuel subsidy and spending more on clean energy can be a solution to benefit the economy. In the long run it saves money by cutting state support on diesel and electricity subsidies.
“Fossil Fuel based pumps are huge burden on India. And at present they are in huge numbers. So even if a small percentage of them are converted into solar based it will be a huge saving. “ says Tarun Kapoor .
“Take the case of a 3 HP pump.You has to use the existing pumps and replace it with solar panels. It will cost only about 2.5 Lakhs to 3 Lakhs. And this is an one time investment. This is after the 30% subsidy from the government of India. Now compare it with the quantity of diesel that it would have consumed if it was not converted. You will see the benefit. The farmer would have spent much more on diesel. But in the case of solar pumps he can recover the cost within three to five years.” Elaboratges Tarun Kapoor further.
Roadblocks and Challenges
But like any other emerging sector, there are also a number of challenges before the solar pump industry. Sandeep Gupta of Jackson Group says “ Too much dependency on subsidies and lack of financing model are some of the issues that need to be resolved. There is also limited awareness of benefits. And no large scale program has been announced.
One of the concerns for the mass use of solar pumps is regarding training of farmers. Environmentalists fear that though the technology is most eco-friendly, yet it may also encourage farmers to overdraw water because the cost of running the solar pump is negligible. We need to be careful about the usage considering that water shortage is looming in a large part of the country. To avoid that, farmers must use water-saving drip irrigation in exchange for accepting subsidies to buy solar water pumps.
“The bigger challenge for establishing solar pumps in agricultural sector is to create awareness, through sales channels, providing suitable consumer finance solutions and creating sustainable service network to improve the availability of the system. The financial support from government for next 2-3 years will help to create a “business as usual” market.” Sundeep says.
To be precise, from a consumer’s perspective, solar pumps are yet to gain acceptability. Firstly, their initial cost is higher than other pumping system in-spite of its very low running cost; and secondly, there is lack of awareness of this technology.
Though the market is booming, there is no focus on developing technical know how among the farmers using the system. In case of any technical problems; the company has to be contacted. In case of areas that are not easily accessible, this becomes a huge problem as the drinking water is an essential.
Quality is another concern. A boom in the market may also lead to bulk production and compromising on the quality.
“The demand of solar pumps is picking up fast but we also need to ensure the quality of products. Products have to be durable in different climatic conditions” Kapoor warns.
Fuel and electricity subsidies once again can be a major roadblock in the success of solar based pumps. Experts believe that government should focus on providing solar pump equipments to farmers instead of providing them with free electricity. The perception of the people still remains that solar pumps are high capital cost and as such are only a viable option in case of support from larger organizations like a farmer community or the government.
“Since, the Solar pump is used by farmers; a very innovative method of low cost financing model need to be explored by the Government by using part of diesel subsidy, power subsidy diversion for farmer (most of the farmer get power for free) and looking into ways and means of tapping the CSR funds. It is also mandatory to create the big demand to enable large scale indigenization of the products, which will also help in reducing the capital cost.” Sandeep believes.
A Sunny Future for Agriculture
“Solar pumping industry has been growing at the rate of 230 % per year.And it is expected to further increase by another 100%. So it will be around 330%.” Pankaj Som of TRA international says.
Focus should be on developing awareness about the option of solar pumps through schemes funded by the government. The initiatives taken by local administration may also play a crucial role. Resources should also be allocated towards developing technical understanding and skills among the local people to reduce dependency on services provided by the company.
“The farmer also needs to be educated. At least he should know little bit about this. He should be able to handle the device and also resolve small technical issues.” Kapoor adds.
Pankaj Som believes that rather than the direct subsidy , the government should look at financing the projects. “That would be sustainable for the industry. Just like it happened for the automobile sector in India. Consider giving the viability gap funding.Capacity building is also very important. We need to develop a number of skilled people who have knowledge about the solar pumps.There should also be commitment at the district level that a certain number of pumps will be operational. “
With certain policy initiatives, the sector can see further growth in days to come. Involvement of communities can come as a great help in this direction. When the community takes ownership of the water supply installation and becomes responsible for the operational costs , it makes the process easier. But that needs to be institutionalized and clarity has to be there . For example, in the case of collecting money and maintenance of the pumps. Maintenance tasks such as cleaning of the panels or operation on a daily basis along with passive tracking should be assigned exclusively to designated people to ensure smooth operation.
The government is supporting the sector both financially and policy wise, but it also needs interest from the financial institutions. “Investments are huge. So we need to engage the financial institutions also in big way. Because the farmer will not be able to make such kind of huge investment from his own source. Financial institutions can help them getting loans for purchasing the solar systems.” Kapoor suggests.
Technical issues can be resolved with a little bit of knowledge. For example, the use of batteries can be replaced by having a larger water storage system in the form of a tank. Even cities and metros have economically feasible atmosphere for deployment of solar pumps, mainly when the quantity of water to be pumped and stored is larger in quantity. Another way of synergising the use of solar power in farms is to attach it solar lights with the solar pumps as it will prove to be of great benefit for farmers working in fields in the dark.
Other Off Grid Solutions
A wide range of innovative solar solutions are available for various needs. Very soon tasks like threshing, fodder cutting, tractor, desalination and water purification, all this would soon run on solar power. They come with a number of benefits
- No grid interconnection required
- No Generator Required
- Save or eliminate fuel costs
- Maintenance is easy
- Increased reliability
- One time investment
- In addition these systems qualify for 30% government subsidy
Products for Agriculture Sector
Solar products in agricultural sector are now more affordable and efficient than ever before. And today, these products are being used in every stage of farming. In India, where a vast population is heavily dependent on agriculture for their bread and butter, efficient and affordable solar solutions can change the fate of millions of farmers. With more power to water their farms, the solar energy can pave the way for the next green revolution.
- Solar water pumping system
- Solar based cold storage
- Solar based Food Processor
Heating and Cooling Systems
- Solar Heaters
- Solar thermal air-conditioners
- Solar Chimneys
- Solar based ventilators
- Solar Water purifier
- Solar Powered Desalination Unit
- Solar Tractors
- Solar Dairy
- Solar Mobile Generator
The potential of solar pumps is so huge that it can become the single largest application for solar in the country. With government support, market initiative and awareness in people the future of sun driven water pumps looks bright. Solar-based products have a huge market in the remote areas, where they can easily replace costly diesel and kerosene. Solar pumps are a feasible solution to social, environmental and economic problems in emerging markets. And in a country like India where a vast population is dependent on agriculture, the usage of solar equipments like pumps may play an important role in charting the course of our economy.
About the Author
This story is written by Rohan Singh. Rohan Singh is journalist with significant experience and has worked with different organizations including DD News. He writes extensively on environment, new and renewable energy, coal and petroleum industry.He has worked with organizations like FICCI, Greenpeace and WWF.