Solar Powered Irrigation

By: Akaash Padmanabha

Solar powered irrigation pumping is an easy concept to understand: use energy from the sun to directly facilitate irrigation. The way this mechanism works is simply by streamlining the conversion of sunlight to energy necessary for pumping water. This mode of irrigation has applications ranging from households, businesses, and agriculture, just to name a big few, and empirically cuts irrigation bills by half while cutting carbon emissions by almost 90%

Necessity for this kind of technology is widely present. As several studies have shown, the access towater for agricultural purposes remains critical in some areas such as in arid regions of Africa and Southern Asia. Many Indian and African farmers fetch the water directly from the well or the rivers and irrigate their fields using buckets. The AgWater Solutions Project shows that, if farmers of those regions could have access to a motorized pump, they would increase their yield by 300%. Furthermore, electricity to pump water is one of the highest costs the rural water management associations incur, so efficient irrigation via solar power is an initiative worth taking. Even without the brand of renewable energy trends, solar power is very applicable in the world of irrigation in its innate feedback loop: more sunlight equals more energy for irrigation but also means that crops likely require more water.

Look to Costa Rica for precedence in the agricultural sector, which can be seen as a large foundation to all countries, regardless of economic status. According to The Tico Times, “more than 4,000 people in eight rural communities in Nicoya and the Isla de Chira, Costa Rica,” are now using solar powered water distribution systems. This project financed by the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA) installed 124 solar panels to help rural water management associations reduce their electrical costs, citing universal access to potable water as their ultimate goal. 

If the technology is already implemented and working, why is it relevant? To answer this, let’s look towards some ongoing projects. In Guanacaste, Costa Rica, “the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation District (DRAT) generates between $150 and $200 million to Costa Rica annually. The Project´s new works will increase the irrigation areas, will double the number of agricultural producers benefited and will improve water use efficiency”, said Patricia Quiros, Manager of the National Service of Groundwater, Irrigation and Drainage Service (SENARA).

And in Bangladesh, the World Bank quantifies that “about 300 pumps are in operation benefitting more than 8,000 farmers.” With the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunlight, solar powered irrigation has not only dropped their irrigation bill by half, but these low maintenance pumps are improving the quality of life for the farmers. They have no moving parts and function without noise or pollution, and the ease of installation allows the technology to expand its reach at a rapid pace. The World Bank is supporting the government’s effort to install 1,250 solar-powered irrigation pumps by 2018, at which point the country will be able to reduce 5,000 tons of carbon emissions per year.

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