Empowering farmers through solar-powered irrigation

Can solar-powered irrigation systems empower our farmers?

India is primarily an agricultural state, with a sizable chunk of our population dependent on agriculture and agribusinesses for their livelihood. The current heatwave ravaging India has already damaged wheat crop production. The extreme heat, surges in fossil fuel prices, and a recent shift in rainfall patterns have caused massive power and water supply disruptions. With all these conditions compounding, it is now critical that every farm has an automated irrigation system. But irrigation systems need constant and consistent power to keep running. So, it may be time to invest in installing solar-powered irrigation systems around the country.  


What is a Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS)?

A clean and green alternative to diesel-powered water pumps, solar-powered irrigation systems are quickly gaining popularity on the world stage. In India, solar energy is already making waves in the renewable energy sector. As the name suggests, a solar-powered irrigation system uses solar panels to generate electricity and run water pumps on farmland. It has already proven to be a reliable alternative to traditional electric or diesel pumps. A case study conducted in the village of Pehal, Rajasthan, also indicated that these irrigation systems are more cost-effective during their life cycle. 


What are the benefits of a Solar-Powered Irrigation System?

Although it’s been around for years, solar-powered irrigation systems are only just beginning to be widely used. Naturally, users of this system are reaping the benefits.  


An inexhaustible source of energy  

Once the installation is complete, a farmer does not need to constantly source fuel to irrigate their farm. This reduces the cost of irrigation in the long run. Additionally, it is clean energy with a low carbon footprint and no emissions.  


Lower maintenance costs  

Solar panels have no moving parts and experience significantly lower wear-and-tear over the years. The equipment can be maintained at a low cost, needing only periodic checks. Additionally, solar panels are covered under warranty for several years.   


No reliance on the power grid  

It is no secret that many areas of India face issues with access to electricity. Landowners and farmers who have installed SPIS can irrigate their farms without interruptions. While this means they do not need to pay for electricity, it also has another benefit. Excess power generated can be sold back to the state for an added income.   


Improved access to irrigation  

Small farmers and landowners can use SPIS to fully automate the irrigation of their farms. This also means that the system can be customised to their individual needs, including the type of crop, the availability of water, the size of the farm and more. It can empower small-scale farmers and bring us closer to achieving SDG 2: Zero Hunger.  


Targets multiple SDGs 

Large-scale adoption of SPIS can help us make strides toward SDGs like no poverty, affordable clean energy and climate action. In a world with increasing farmer suicide rates due to low crop yields, it can also contribute to good health and well-being within the community.  


What are the challenges of Solar-Powered Irrigation System?  

SPIS is not infallible, and it comes with its own unique set of challenges that need to be addressed in the near future.  

  • SPIS has a high installation cost, including solar panels, wiring, batteries and more.  
  • It is bulky and uses up precious space on small farms.  
  • Most SPIS use groundwater as a source of water, which can severely deplete it. 
  • It depends on bright sunny weather and cannot function at full capacity in cloudy weather.  
  • It needs extensive power storage solutions that add to the cost.    

To facilitate the installation and upgrade of solar-powered irrigation systems, the government of India has launched schemes like PM Kusum. Under this scheme, the government has heavily subsidised the installation cost of solar irrigation systems. However, to tackle all the challenges that arise, aligned efforts by the government and the private sector are needed. 


In India, where agriculture is considered the very lifeblood of our society, it is vital to safeguard our farmers and their land from climate change. While SPIS is slowly making a difference in the agricultural sector, the technology is far from perfect. If you are curious to know more, try our quick 10-part series on renewable energy. The large-scale adoption and technological advancement of solar-powered irrigation systems will require additional research and heavy investments. It is only through collaboration between the government, NGOs, and the CSR policies of corporates that we drive a country-wide change and empower our farmers.  

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