Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Spread the word on solar pumping ! Supporting farmers in Bihar to adopt clean technologies to improve agricultural outputs

                                                                                                                by Franziska Kohler

Water is running through irrigation channels to the fields where vegetables, maize, mustard, wheat and other crops of Vaishali farmers are being cultivated. The water is supplied by Vaishali Area Small Farmer Association (VASFA) – which has been supporting irrigation groups since over 40 years, providing more than 700 farmers with water from their diesel powered pumping systems in exchange for a monthly membership fee and an additional amount paid for water on an hourly basis. Recently, however, the usual loud pounding of the diesel pump has fallen silent.

The GIZ initial study titled “Solar Water Pumping For Irrigation” highlighted that low awareness about the technology among farmers and financial institutions, who can play significant role in the development of market for solar water pump by providing consumer finance, is a major challenge. Renewable Energy Component of the Indo German Energy Programme (IGEN-RE) of Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH hired the service of Claro Energy a private company providing off-grid solar solutions, to replace two diesel pumps with solar powered ones.  At these demonstration sites, diesel pumps, which were being operated by two VASFA groups, were replaced by solar water pumps, and the tariff collected by these groups will contribute towards upfront costs of replacement for the remaining groups.

Currently, farmers whose land are located outside VASFA’s catchment area either own private diesel pumps or rely on renting pump sets on an hourly basis. The former option is expensive, especially due to high maintenance and operating costs. About INR 3000 are spent by each of the farmer on diesel alone in the seasons of Rabi and Kharif. For renting a pump set for one hour farmers in the area pay INR 120 making rented pumps an equally  expensive as well as unreliable source of irrigation. “Getting water from an institution, such as VASFA, instead of private individuals”, Ram Chandra Thakur (62) says, “would give us more security concerning water access. Solar pumping would furthermore help us to save on irrigation cost.”

Educating farmers about solar pumping technology, including  operation and maintenance as well as technical features, such as output and operating times, is one of the main goals of the demonstration sites. About 250 farmers will visit the site(s) each year and attend the workshops and information sessions where their questions related to solar pumping will be answered. Simultaneously, these events will give solar companies the opportunity to gain a better understanding of their customers’ preferences and choices relating to the technology. In addition, the presence of bankers, NGOs and government agencies will be an integral part of these events giving them a better understanding about the technology as well as the obstacles faced by farmers interested in converting to solar. “The planning and installation of the two solar pumps has been a very enriching experience” highlights Nilanjan Ghose, technical expert of IGEN-RE. The sites for replacement of the two pumps were selected democratically involving all the irrigation groups under VASFA. The installation of the solar panels was customized to ensure minimum blocking of agricultural land. Santosh Singh, technical expert of IGEN-RE explains: “we hope that these demonstration sites will aid in educating and awareness raising amongst all stakeholders concerned, paving the way for similar installations and finally leading to a broader market-based uptake of the technology in Bihar”. GIZ is working towards development of market ecosystem for solar water pumps.

Water gushing out from solar pump to the agricultural fields at Lalpura Village at Vaishali, Bihar 


A solar pump demonstration site at Vaishali, Bihar