Solarisation of Agriculture is the need of the hour

solar water pump

Undoubtedly, agriculture is a power intensive sector. Farmers predominantly rely on diesel and electric pumps for irrigation. However, the scale of use of diesel and electric pumps in the sector contribute to severe environmental problems.

Diesel pumps depend on exploitation of fossil fuel resources, increase fuel cost for farmers and emit toxic fumes that pollute the environment and affect human health. Whereas, electric pumps which are operated on subsidised or free electricity supplied by state governments also largely depend on fossil fuel. While the need for irrigation in today’s increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions is indisputable, diesel and electric pumps are not sustainable long term solutions.

In regard to this, solar irrigation is a crucial part of India’s efforts to transform towards renewable energy. Of India’s target of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, 100 GW is solar-based.

I here, want to present a brief analysis of couple of successful solar irrigation models, I had chance to visit.

Vaishali in Bihar

A German development agency, has been experimenting with different service delivery models in the eastern parts of India. GIZ piloted a service delivery model of pay-as-you-go in Vaishali district (Lalpur, Baniya and Harharo) of Bihar. Envisioned as a community based model, it is based on sharing a solar pump within an irrigation water-sharing group of farmers. The GIZ pilot collaborated with a local organisation, VASFA, to implement its pilot solar irrigation project in Vaishali district. So far, this collaboration has resulted in the implementation of 3 fixed solar irrigation pumps and 5 portable solar irrigation pumps.

These solar irrigation pumps are managed and operated by farmers groups. The farmers sharing the solar pump either need to have their land adjacent to the water pump or within the catchment area of the pump. Each group has a group leader elected from the group for oversight and collection of service charges and an operator for daily operation of pump. Water is sold to group members on priority and then to surrounding farmers for a service charge based on the quantum of water delivered. The sequence in which members and non-members receive water in a particular day is decided by the group leader. Data analysis by externals also shows that the solar irrigation pump in Lalpura village is predominantly used by members of the group. The service charge to be collected is decided by the group and the charge for non-members is slightly higher than that for members. Both group members receive water at Rs 30 per hour, and non-members hire the services of the pump at Rs 50 per hour. The collected money is used for salary of the operator and the rest is deposited with VASFA for maintenance of the asset. The catchment area of the pump is about 40 acres. The areas nearer to the pump are serviced through canals and the remaining areas are serviced through delivery pipes. The experience of farmer’s organizations with the solar irrigation has so far been positive.

Dhundi in Gujarat

A grid-connected solar irrigation pump was installed in Thamna village of Anand district in Gujarat in 2015, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in collaboration with the Tata Trust initiated conversation with farmers in Dhundi village. The Cooperative was to implement six grid-connected solar irrigation pumps with a total capacity of 56.4 kWp that can ensure irrigation and evacuation of solar power to utility grid. The cooperative was formally registered in February 2016; it was deemed to be the first solar cooperative in the world.

The benefits from this project have been multifold. Use of diesel has almost come to an end in our village. The income that the cooperative members earn from sale of water and electricity has substantially improved farmers lives.

For all nine solar pumps that are in Dhundi, the cooperative reports that the company has provided support whenever required, both over telephone and through trips to Dhundi. In 2017, when three of Keiloskar’s pumps malfunctioned, cleantech company transported them to their workshop, repaired them and installed them back. This grid-connected solar irrigation model implemented by IWMI-TATA not only ensures assured access to irrigation and electricity, it also provides the farmer with the dual economic benefit of selling surplus electricity to the DISCOM and selling water to farmers. This has resulted in substantial economic benefit to the nine cooperative members in Dhundi. However, a large portion of the equipment cost was borne by the project, without which the project may not have been viable.


It must be noted that both these irrigation models were initiated by private companies but the farmer groups assisted them and ownership remains with the farmer groups. Therefore, in countries such as India which are suffering from high temperatures, heat waves and scarce water resources, the solar irrigation systems could also contribute to an efficient water management. This is all the more important as farmers have to face three challenges: save water, money and energy. Solar irrigation systems shall turn out to be the perfect answer to face these challenges. Although these systems are still quite expensive and complicated to settle, government subsidies and policy intervention by state and central governments can help in democratization of the use of solar power in agriculture, which, in the future (and even now), could play a vital part in the management of the food and energy crisis.

Yuz Gonsalves works on energy transition and climate change.


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