Clean Power

Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Anand Upadhyay


The Rise Of Solar Pumps In India

August 11th, 2014 by  

During his budget speech, India Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley announced a $67 million package for installing 100,000 solar-powered irrigation pump sets and water pumping stations. Not much talked about, but this is an important step considering India’s irrigation woes and the fact that almost half of its population depends on agriculture for their livelihood.

A solar pump installed by Punchline Energy Pvt Ltd in Rajathan, India

Image Credit: Punchline Energy Pvt Ltd

The problems concerning irrigation in India are too deep to uncover in a single post. India has about 26 million groundwater pumps (both diesel and electric) on farms that cost a mammoth $6 billion a year in energy subsidies. Irrigation pumps used in the agriculture sector account for about 25% of electricity and 12% of the diesel consumed. But these pumps irrigate only 44% of the area under cultivation, the farmers elsewhere are left staring up to the rain gods. The grid which supplies electricity to the farmers is itself in bad shape with frequent outage. To add to this, the farmers care neither for the electricity (which is either free or highly subsidized) nor for the water being pumped, as a result wasting both. All in all it’s a huge food-water-energy nexus issue.

In a sun-rich, albeit fossil-deficient India, solar water pumping appears to be a silver bullet solution to these problems. Solar pumping has a near perfect correlation with solar radiation available and also the pumped water demand. As a result, you don’t really need a battery to store electrical energy and can ‘really’ have a system which would run for 15-20 years.

In order to promote solar pumps amongst farmers, a number of half-hearted attempts were taken, but the real shot in the arm came from the programs in the desert state of Rajasthan. The program promoted by Rajasthan’s agriculture department put forward three important conditions to be fulfilled by the farmers seeking subsidized solar pumps: they were supposed to have water storage facility, use drip irrigation, and grow crops which would fetch more revenue. During 2012-13, the program led to an uptake of 3,000 solar pumps.

Not only has the program been very well received by the farmers, it has also helped to create a small pool of mostly indigenous solar pump industry entrepreneurs. The target for the next round of the program in Rajasthan has been set to 10,000 solar pumps. Other states, especially Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh have announced their own plans to promote solar pumps. However, with the total number of solar pumps in India reported to be just 11,626 there is a really long way to go.

The next big challenge is going to be reducing the subsidies. In Rajasthan, for example, the government subsidizes solar pumps to the extent of 86%, the remaining cost being borne by the farmer. However, product innovation, better economies of scale, and rising energy prices could eliminate the need for subsidies. As Mr. Tarun Kapoor, the joint secretary of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, says: “Irrigation pumps may be the single largest application for solar in the country.”

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About the Author

is an Associate Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, New Delhi) - an independent, not-for-profit research institute focused on energy, environment, and sustainable development. Anand follows the Indian solar market at @indiasolarpost. He also writes at SolarMarket.IN. Views and opinion if any, are his own.

  • JamesWimberley

    Bangladesh seems to be ahead of India in organization. I assume the technology is the same. The linked post on India doesn’t mention West Bengal, the adjacent Indian state with a very similar geography, rural economy and language, so I infer it is lagging.

  • Simon King

    If someone needs:
    1.Solar water pump(DC or AC) for irrigation or residential;
    2. Solar power system for home or public.
    Pleass send your specific requirement to:

  • JamesWimberley

    It’s crucial that the solar pump susidies are tied to good irrigation practice, as in the Rajasthan initiative.

    • On an optimistic note, the high cost of solar power should naturally help to integrate it with efficient irrigation practices.

      • Bob_Wallace

        If the pumping is now being done with diesel powered pumps it’s likely the cost of pumping water will drop.

        • There goes my optimism ! On a side note, there was a proposal to charge farmers for using groundwater in India. But since these are highly politicized topics, the best chances of that ever happening is never.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I think the best route is to educate farmers. To get them to understand that if they use more water than they need to use then they will have to pay for deeper wells and more solar panels to drive their pumps.

            In many parts of the world farmers are dealing with lowering water tables and shrinking aquifers. If Indian farmers are familiar with having to go deeper to get the water they need then education might not be difficult.
            Drip. Water at night. Mulch. Get more organic matter into the soil. Lots of ways to cut water use while keep plant production high.

            With the low cost of labor in India I would think there would be a lot of use of products like T-tape with row crops. Water a section of the field at night. Move the system to another section of the field in the morning. One system could water 3x the area or more by simply repositioning. (Pump water into elevated plastic tanks during the day. Drip runs at fairly low pressure.)

          • Offgridman

            I think you can go back to being optimistic because the switch to solar power and the pumps that will work at the best efficiencies on the least amount of panels will help to encourage the conservation of water.
            In the case of the solar pump that is used to fill my water tank it only pumps about a gallon and a half per minute or 90 gallons/hour (5 liters/min. rough conversion). But that is done over a distance of about 470 feet (141 meters) with a rise in elevation of 130 feet (39 meters). But it only requires a 100 watt 12 volt solar panel to do that as the pump pulls about 6 amps at that elevation (pressure demand to get the water that high.
            So instead of diesel powered pumps spewing massive quantities of water for a short time (one or a few hours) they will probably switch to smaller pumps requiring fewer solar panels pumping smaller amounts of water over a longer period to equate to what was done by the diesel. Whether directly to the drip irrigation or to a tank to do the irrigating at night.
            I think that this change is part of the plan in switching to solar because of the reference of using the drip irrigation. So instead of getting a whole lot of water at one time that is harder to control and spread to everywhere needed, the farmers will get more used to controlling a slower supply that can be put exactly where needed and will be much easier to shut off when enough has been delivered.
            So in my opinion the more efficient use of the water is going to be built in to the new way of getting and delivering it.
            Another good point about these new types of pumps is how the maintenance will be reduced compared to the diesel motors and heavy duty pumps. Mine has been running 340 days a year for the past seven years with no problems and the brushes have only worn down about halfway.
            So try to stay hopeful and optimistic.

        • GCO

          Yes, solar pumps may be left running all day at almost no cost, but diesel pumps can be very powerful, and matching their output would require PV arrays much larger than the ~4kW shown above.

          The key will be to size the systems correctly, so they don’t encourage waste by making excess water available. That their output naturally vary depending on sunlight certainly helps.

  • Steve Grinwis

    Doesn’t India also have an issue in that a lot of the water it is pumping up is from extremely deep fossil aquifers?

    • Fortunately, most of the aquifers in India are replenishable, especially in the plains ( But even then the inefficient water use and its wastage is a huge problem.

      • Steve Grinwis

        That is excellent news. I had though that we were going to hit a wall where water could not be pumped to the fields, due to depleted fossil aquifers, and then we’d have a billion hungry people we’d be struggling to feed. If efficient water usage, and solar power can solve this for us, we’re good!

        • I thought I had seen the same somewhere. Maybe just a misinterpretation…

  • Ross

    Each one of those panels is like a banner ad for solar power.

    • Ha, good point. 😀

      One of the things about solar that will help it disrupt the market — visibility!

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