If we convert the electric and diesel pumps into solar, we can electrify nearly 16 per cent of the six lakh villages in India that are without electricity, which makes solar a suitably viable alternative to generate electricity, says Hitesh Doshi, Chairman and Managing Director, Waaree Energies Ltd.
In rural areas of India, where there is no power grid and more water is needed than what hand or foot pumps can deliver, the choices for powering pumps is usually restricted to solar power or a fuel-driven engine. But there are very distinct differences between the two in terms of cost and reliability. Diesel pumps are typically characterised by a low first cost but a very high operation and maintenance cost. Solar power is the opposite as it has a higher first cost but very low ongoing operation and maintenance costs. Also, it is much easier and cheaper to keep a solar-powered system going as compared to a diesel or electric one.
Agriculture is the backbone of our country, where almost 70 to 74 per cent of the population depends on agriculture directly or indirectly. While 34.7 per cent of the 183 million hectares of agricultural land is irrigated, nearly 65.3 per cent relies on the monsoons. Therefore, farmers are forced to go in for electric or diesel pumps for irrigation. India’s agricultural sector, thus, accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the total electric consumption. There are about 35 million pumps installed in the country, of which 10 million are diesel pumps and the rest are operated through grid power.
A solar water pumping system is ideal in remote locations where grid electricity does not exist or it is cumbersome to carry gasoline or diesel to feed a pump. A solar water pump, which operates on solar power, free of charge and on its own, requires no fuel deliveries and very little maintenance. By using solar pumps we can save the consumption of fossil fuels. Some 1,000 diesel pump sets (3 hp) consume nearly 4,200 litres of diesel for six hours of running every day. This means in one year (240 days) approximately 10,08,000 litres of diesel is consumed per 1,000 pumps.
Very often investment decisions are based only on the cost for purchasing a technology, neglecting the operational, maintenance and replacement costs. When comparing solar and diesel water pumps in terms of total costs over the minimum 20-year lifespan of the solar panels, one must add the cost of fuel that has to be delivered to the borehole for the next 20 years, to the cost of the diesel pump itself.
Diesel consumption in India is attributed to transportation (50 per cent), industry (25 per cent) agriculture (15 per cent) and others (10 per cent). For the last three years, the price of diesel has only been escalating due to a reduction in fuel subsidy. In the last 10 years, diesel prices have increased by 20 per cent on an average. As a result of this rise, farmers are not able to irrigate their land adequately. Hence, turning to solar power is the need of the hour. Modern, well-designed, simple to-maintain solar systems can provide the requisite energy when needed. These are systems that have been tested and proven around the world to be cost-effective and reliable, and they are already raising levels of agricultural productivity worldwide.
For farmers with a creek running through their properties, using a solar-powered water pumping solution means less fouling of waterways and far less erosion of banks. It can also lead to better pasture management as livestock will be able to access water via multiple distribution points.
In India, we enjoy the advantage of plenty of sunlight with clear skies almost all through the year.
Thus, turning to solar powered systems makes all the more sense to meet our agricultural needs. If we convert the electric and diesel pumps into solar, we can electrify nearly 16 per cent of the six lakh villages in India that are without electricity, besides reducing diesel consumption which makes it a suitably viable alternative to generate electricity.