Solar pumps are transforming the agricultural landscape throughout the developing world. The availability of energy throughout the year, as well as government interest across the globe, are benefits in the fight against climate change.
Solar irrigation pumps provide support to rural off-grid areas usually underserved or served by costly fuel-driven pumps. An analysis shows that small solar pumps are a better alternative for 11% of the contemporary and future small motorized fuel hydrocarbon pumps on smallholder estates (Barron et al 2018). The cost of energy has been an issue and often biased towards the rural communities around the world including some parts of the developed countries due to accessibility and maintenance cost issues. Rural areas often are subsidized or pay a higher price for energy than usual.
If one looks at Africa, the potential is tremendous. Less than 4% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is currently under irrigation, compared to 40% in Asia. Studies have shown that in countries like Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia, the quality of irrigation through solar pumps have advanced and the costs have declined. In the process, they raise farmers’ incomes and allow countries to lower carbon emissions and meet climate commitments.
For example, Kenya plans to eliminate 3 million tonnes CO2 of emissions per year by 2030 through the use of solar pumps. Already the country has roughly 3,600 smallholder irrigation projects that span 168,000 acres.
In most of these countries where the solar pump is gaining popularity, cost-effective financing and innovative business models are in vogue to assist small-scale farmers. Solar panels produce energy even when no irrigation is needed. This energy is utilized to power small businesses, run rice huskers, mills, water purifiers, cold storage units, all contributing to rural development and incomes in rural off-grid areas.
The problem with such initiatives is the local community usually receives the innovative technology without expanding their capacity for operation, maintenance and service delivery. Realizing the true potential and adaptation to new technologies take time. Then there is the problem of over-pumping of groundwater — with a steady supply of energy, this is quite likely. Community engagement and capacity development must be emphasized by governments and donor agencies in order to reap the benefits of the ongoing revolution.
First published: Science Trends
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