Sustainable Energy for Pumping and Irrigation

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Irrigation can increase agricultural yield by up to 50 percent. Using renewable energy in pumping and irrigation can therefore not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also lower the costs of buying diesel or kerosene fuels and increase the sources of income for large and small-scale farmers. In addition, regions that are off-grid or without reliable access to electricity due to constant blackouts can benefit from renewable energies. If efficient irrigation methods like drip irrigation are implemented, valuable water resources can be saved and the use of arable land for irrigated crops increases, leading to an extra source of income. The additional vegetated land cover will furthermore allow the protection of the increasingly threatened soil resources. A win-win for our farmers and the environment.

However, although irrigation acts as the backbone of local economic development in the Global South, many barriers hinder farmers from efficient irrigation uses in these regions: the main obstacles include the missing access to reliable energy sources, the lack of information about appropriate technologies as well as barriers to financing options. Using clean energy for irrigation such as solar power can increase production and create access to electricity while saving financial resources.

Sustainable Groundwater Extraction

The unlimited sources of renewable energy for water pumping does not necessarily promise sustainability if water resources are not used with responsibility. Especially countries with low rainfall rates, where irrigation makes the biggest difference for agricultural production, usually extract the required water from groundwater reservoirs, which are invisibly threatened from water resource overuse. By reducing costs, SPIS can improve people’s access to water. Nevertheless, without incentive to moderate water consumption, there is a strong risk of overexploitation, and even depletion of water resources. Coupling SPIS with efficient irrigation methods, such as drip irrigation, does not guarantee that water is saved. Water is simply reallocated to a greater area of land, more water-intensive crops, an additional cropping season, or to other uses. In some cases, water is sold to neighbours, generating an extra income for farmers and adding further pressure on water resources where they are scarce. To optimize water use in agriculture, the water requirements of any crop can be calculated by using assessment tools as the Water Requirement Tool of the SPIS Toolbox. However, the main facts about groundwater recharge, water licensing, governance and management should be taken into consideration for sustainable groundwater extraction before planning an irrigation system of any kind. Otherwise, groundwater overexploitation can lead to well interference, groundwater salinization, groundwater depletion or disconnecting groundwater from the surface water flow, with severe consequences for the surrounding ecosystems. Read more…


Meeting the needs of agri-food-systems, involves the knowledge of different irrigation technologies available on the market which can be combined with a variety of pumping systems.

Irrigation Types

In order to identify which irrigation system suits best each agricultural practice and site, it is important to know the main technical characteristics of every irrigation type and of the different energy sources used for pumping and irrigation. Read more…

Drip Irrigation, for example, is the most efficient way of applying water to plants, as only the rooting zone receives water, avoiding evaporation or soil erosion. Weed growth can also be reduced, as water and nutrients are supplied only to the cultivated plant, which also has a positive impact on seed germination. It can be employed in any kind of landscape and extensive land levelling is not required. The operational costs are also low as almost no labour is required and due to the low pressure needed, compared to other irrigation methods, energy costs can be saved. However, the initial investment costs are comparatively high, and the system may need to be replaced regularly, as pipes can be damaged from UV-radiation and are vulnerable to clogging, leading to additional costs. For optimal water distribution, good skills for irrigation water management are required. Under frequent drip, the soil is maintained continuously moist, creating a uniquely favourable soil moisture regime, which offers a distinct advantage over other types of irrigation systems. This is especially beneficial for sandy soils, which have a low moisture storage capacity. Compared to surface irrigation, drip irrigation is less affected by soil texture, topography or surface roughness. Read more…

Surface Irrigation, also known as flood irrigation is the application of water by gravity flow to the surface of the field. Either the entire field is flooded (basin irrigation) or the water is fed into small channels (furrow irrigation) or strips of land (border irrigation). The management of these types of irrigation is easy and does not require modern technology. They do not require high financial input and adapt easily to flat topography. Especially for short-term water supplies these systems work well and adapt well to moderate to low infiltration rates, allowing easy leaching of salts. However, the levelling of land requires labour input and soils with high infiltration rates require small field sizes, which interferes with mechanization. Another disadvantage is the difficulty of applying small irrigation quantities. During times of excessive rainfall, water drains very slowly, affecting plant growth negatively. Read more…

Sprinkler Irrigation is a method of providing rainfall-like irrigation where water is distributed through a system of pipes usually by pumping. Spray heads at the outlets distribute the water over the entire soil surface, and depending on the crop water requirements and the soil texture, different sprinkler heads are more or less suitable (impact sprinklers, gear-driven rotors, centre pivot irrigation, linear move irrigation systems, traveling big gun systems and side roll systems). Due to high capital investment, centre pivots, linear moves, travelling big guns and side roll systems are used on high value crops. They require high skilled expert knowledge, even though the labour requirements are low due to automation. All mechanical components need to be maintained systematically to avoid damage and high repair costs. Sprinkler irrigation is suited for most row, field and tree crops, where water can be sprayed over or under the crop canopy. However, large sprinklers are not recommended for irrigation of delicate crops, as the large water drops may damage the crop. Read more…

Pump Types

There are different types of pumps that are differently suitable for each agricultural system and region.

Diesel Pump

The conventional diesel pump allows pumping off-grid and only requires fuel transportation to the area where the pump is being employed. The risks a diesel pump entails include environmental pollution and food contamination due to spillage. In order to overcome diesel price fluctuations, battery-based hybrid solutions that combine renewable sources are being developed. As batteries are still quite expensive, alternative hybrid models consist of fuel saving solar systems, which still need the diesel generator, but allow regular irrigation schedules. The most cost-efficient diesel-solar hybrid pumping system is the variable speed drive, where the diesel generator can be turned off completely. Read more…

Grid Connected Pump

In areas where grid connection is possible, mainly electric pumps are used, as this energy source is easy to use, and many pumping technologies are designed for grid connection. However, blackouts are still frequent in the Global South, making it also a less reliable and highly dependent option. An increasingly used solution consists of a hybrid system, which can run on a renewable energy source when grid connection is not possible.

While they bear less environmental risks and allow a higher dependency, renewable energies in the agricultural sector entail high upfront investment costs, which shrink back most smallholder farmers. Nevertheless, a growing number of donors and lately also subsidies from the state, facilitate the implementation of clean energy equipment, allowing rural communities in the Global South to test and convince themselves from all their advantages. Encouraging smallholder farmers to dare the step towards sustainable energy use, helps mainstreaming these systems and thereby allows easier access among the sector.

Basics and SWOT analysis of Solar Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS)

SPIS use solar energy for pumping water from a source to the place where the water is needed. Depending on the system, the water could also be pumped to a storage tank first, from which the water is released to the irrigation area through a pipe system. Depending on different parameters like solar irradiation, hydraulic lift or water output, some parts of the system can be modified. SPIS are technically mature, highly reliable and economically competitive. Strengths of SPIS also include the ease of installation and the low maintenance required. However, the initial investment costs are high compared with diesel pumps. In addition, as the technology is relatively new, farmers are not aware of the variety of appropriate technologies available and lack access to distributors for the installation and spare parts. Nevertheless, these weaknesses can be seen as opportunities, as falling prices improve economic competitiveness of SPIS and increasing the local SPIS market creates employment in new sectors. Read more…

Solar Powered Water Pump

There are different approaches of integrating renewables in pumping systems. The solar powered water pump, running on photovoltaic energy, shows especially good results in equatorial regions, where radiation is highest all year long. It uses solar energy to pump up water from the source to an elevated storage tank or directly to the field (direct feed). Once water in the storage tank is needed for irrigation, it is released gravitationally at a certain pressure dependent on the height difference from the tank to the irrigated area, which can be regulated by pipe diameter, length and the type of emitters employed. As solar panels become cheaper, this technology is increasingly accessible to most smallholder farmers in the Global South, allowing expansion of agricultural production to originally off-grid areas, and enhancing stepwise rural electrification through mini-grid projects. Read more…

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Water tanks can store the water for irrigation (GIZ/Böthling).

Water powered Water Pumps

In some regions, the use of solar pumps is not suitable due to the geographical situation, which may hinder the access of skilled personal to maintain the technology, or where there is not enough radiation that reaches the site. This is often the case in mountainous areas, where water is abundantly available though. Here, hydro-power, or so-called water powered water pumps can be used. These are low-cost, zero-emission pumps that require low maintenance. Read more…

Actors and Innovations

Different innovators have shown the potential of renewable energies in pumping and irrigation. Creative approaches span from solar hydroponic irrigation systems to low-cost pay-as-you-go models, facilitating access in regions without reliable electricity supply. Especially the use of solar energy appeals to smallholder farmers in the Global South, where solar radiation is an abundant and free resource. While solar technologies are becoming increasingly cheaper, the main barrier for the adoption of these clean-energy solutions are still the relatively high upfront investment costs, which elucidate the necessity of innovative, efficient and affordable payment systems. Innovators and their ideas using examples from different value chains demonstrate the diversity of approaches that can be adopted.

Solar Powered Irrigation Systems

Solar Powered Pumps for Improved Irrigation

iDE and its partners have developed a new product category of a solar powered pump for irrigation. The so-called Sunflower pump includes a highly efficient piston pump powered by an 80-watt PV panel, featuring a 40 % reduction in weight and volume while retaining its efficiency. Meant to help smallholder farmers increase their production and reduce the involved costs for labour and the use of other fuels, the technology development is however only one component of bringing the solar pump to scale. iDE has identified five key factors needed to bring a clean irrigation solution to scale, including the use of an appropriate technology, a viable business plan, an accompanying finance model, an established supply chain as well as marketing and educational resources. Read more…

PV-Integrated Drip Irrigation and Fertigation Systems

As water resources are scarce in the MENA region, the inefficient use of irrigation water and fertilizers for crop production have large impacts on soil health. In order to ensure a sustainable use of water and soil, the Italian NGO Institute for University Cooperation (ICU) has supported the promotion of a solar-powered drip fertigation system in Jordan and Lebanon. This has allowed farmers to cultivate larger areas as more water is available for irrigation, and to safeguard soils from salinization, since fertilizer application becomes more efficient, which also saves the farmers money and thereby increases their income. The result has encouraged local partners to invest in this promising innovation. Read more…

Scaling the Distribution of Tailored Agro-Solar Irrigation Kits to Smallholder Farmers

Only six percent of African arable land is under irrigation, while climate makes the majority of the continent unsuitable for rainfed cultivation. This leads to low crop yields and a generalized disconnection from the agriculture value chain. However, the few farmers who irrigate rely on expensive diesel pumps or carry the water by hand. This has led the innovator SunCulture to recognize the potential of solar-powered irrigation, and to develop the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit (ASIK), for cheaper and easier access to solar-powered irrigation. SunCulture has started training technicians, agronomists and hopes to expand the distribution partnerships across the entire continent. Read more…

Sunflower Pump: Asset-Financed Solar Irrigation Pumps for Smallholder Farmers

The PAEGC innovator Futurepump developed the SunFlower Pump, which is an easy-to-maintain solar irrigation pump, built around a simple piston pump arrangement. In collaboration with Kenya’s Equity Bank, which has made the product available to customers through consumer financing, Futurepump has established a loan system making the Sunflower Pump become cheaper and easier to access by Kenyan smallholder farmers, allowing an increase of nearly 50 % of agricultural production by irrigating their fields. Read more…

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Farmer with solar-powered pump (GIZ/Böthling).

Micro-Solar Utilities for Small-Scale Irrigation

As irrigation practices in Senegal are often labour- or cost-intensive, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, partnering with the MDG Center West and Central Africa (WCA) has developed a central solar energy unit to power multiple alternate current (AC) pumps for irrigation. The proposed solution takes advantage of the benefits of solar without the high costs associated with direct current (DC) powered pumps and battery storage. Using prepaid electricity cards, small farmers can easily afford this PAYG irrigation service, resulting in higher revenues from lower costs and higher production rates. Read more…

Agrosolar Irrigation

There are 5.4 million hectares of arable land in Kenya, but 83 percent is unsuitable for rain-fed irrigation. However, only 4 percent of the land is currently under irrigation, mainly using diesel, electric or treadle pumps for furrow irrigation. These are inefficient, environmentally unfriendly and costly. Islamic Relief Kenya is providing affordable solar powered drip irrigation technology. This innovation is designed to meet the needs of smallholder farmers and improve productivity and profitability by supporting cooperatives in Kenya. The innovator links potential users to training and financial service providers. This ultra-efficient innovation saves about 80 percent of the water used in furrow irrigation and delivers water and fertilizer directly to the crop roots. Read more…

Renewable Microgrids for Off-Grid Fish Hatcheries and Surrounding Communities

In Bangladesh, off-grid fish hatcheries rely extensively on diesel and kerosene to provide electricity for water pumping and lighting. Both energy sources are costly, pollute the environment and threaten the food chain and human health. The International Development Enterprises iDE have developed a business model attractive for investors to promote a clean energy solution: the implementation of solar and hybrid solar/wind micro-grids. This innovation does not only increase and enhance the productivity of the hatcheries but also provides domestic energy access, increasing the hours of lighting and allowing the use of fans and refrigerators. Read more...

Rainmaker – MyRain LLC

In India, 41 million small-plot farmers rely on flood irrigation, a method that stunts crops and washes away valuable soil nutrients. Drip irrigation, which increases yields and efficiency during fertilizer application, has only proliferated among 5 percent of these farmers. MyRain is a wholesaler of drip irrigation products. MyRain’s Rainmaker is a point-of-sale and design application that makes it easy for retailers to customize drip irrigation systems for small-plot farmers based on entering a few parameters. This intuitive app removes the barrier of retailer engineering expertise and increases the ease and opportunity to advise, sell, and order drip irrigation components. Read more…


A Hydroponic Green Farming Initiative

The Jordanian innovator ECO Consult first won the Powering Agriculture Award in 2013 for the development of an integrated hydroponic irrigation model combined with photovoltaic farming. This model not only allows the saving of energy costs but also of water resources, which are scarce in Jordan. Since 2013, the interest among farmers and households in Jordan has grown significantly with this technology promising an increase of agricultural produce and new sources of income and employment opportunities. Read more..

Hydroponic Irrigation System (with two separate pipe networks)

Besides the energy source, technological innovation for irrigation systems can also be found within nutrient and water supply mechanisms. For example, in hydroponic systems, employing a reverse-osmosis mechanism for nutrient supply, combined with a tracking system allowing constant feed under controlled conditions. Read more…

Cost-Reducing and Resource Saving Approaches

Low-Cost Pay-Per-Use Irrigation using Solar Trolley Systems

In India, where water availability for irrigation depends on monsoon patterns, it is necessary to pump ground water in order to keep growing and producing, and thus generating income. Given a lack of electricity access, the most reliable energy source for pumping is diesel fuel, which has many drawbacks (environmental pollution and ever-increasing costs among others). With the purpose of avoiding these obstacles to farmer’s economic prosperity, Claro Energy has come up with a pay-per-use irrigation service that uses a portable solar pump. Using a pre-paid card system, farmers can remotely activate affordable, convenient and on-demand pumping service with no upfront capital costs that can irrigate larger amounts of farmland during the dry season. Furthermore, the funds saved can be invested in more efficient technologies, increasing farmers’ productivity and income while decreasing GHG emissions. Read more…

Affordable, High-Performance Solar Irrigation for Smallholder Farmers

Another pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model has been adopted by the Kenyan innovator KickStart: as solar-powered irrigation technologies still remain expensive in Kenya, adopting a PAYG model allows flexible financing options, which not only make this technology affordable for poor smallholder farmers, but also increases the awareness of clean energy by mainstreaming accessibility. This turns out in a higher demand for sustainable energy, and thereby encourages financing institutions to invest in this kind of technologies, enabling the transition from rain-fed subsistence farming to year-round commercial agriculture. Transforming food and income security of smallholder farmers and broader rural communities, the PAYG model helps people lift themselves out of poverty and allows expanding smallholders’ role in water management. Read more…

Irrigation Scheduling System

Information about climate and weather patterns is often limited and expensive in emerging economies. As data collected by public authorities here does not always cover the whole country, marketing companies only provide services to large farming institutions due to the high costs. Smallholder farmers thus lack access to essential weather data. This innovation by ICU (Institute for University Cooperation) allows widespread sharing of information among smallholder farmers at an accessible cost through their own platform, providing them with recommendations and notifications to their mobile phones or tablets. Read more…

MimosaTEK – Internet of Things Platform

MimosaTEK’s technology addresses the excessive usage of water in farming practice, which affect plant health and drains the limited groundwater. Using an internet of things platform for precision agriculture, the technology monitors and analyses data on farms by sensors (to measure soil moisture, rain, wind, light) to recommend to farmers a precise irrigation schedule in real-time. Read more…

SWAR – Subsurface Drip Irrigation

As half of the arable land in India is prone to frequent drought, risks from unfavourable weather patterns drives debts and leaves farmers vulnerable to financial disrepair. The Centre for Environment Concerns introduced the world’s first sub-surface drip irrigation system that releases moisture when the crop requires water. This underground, gravity-based irrigation system provides moisture to plants at the root level. SWAR enhances soil nutrients, uses harvested or stored water, and provides irrigation to low rainfall areas. This method based on low-pressure drip irrigation extended with adapted clay pots, assures moisture is spread at the plant’s root zone to cultivate vegetables, flowers, fruit and forestry trees using only one fifth of other drip irrigation systems in India. Read more…

Case Studies

Remote areas without access to electricity can particularly profit from solar powered irrigation systems: Case studies from different parts of the world show how SPIS have been adapted to all kinds of geophysical patterns, allowing agricultural practices where crop cultivation was never successful before. The following case studies show how arid areas with access to groundwater or other water sources can benefit from SPIS making food production more effective and contributing to food security.

Solar Powered Irrigation Systems in Egypt

Egypt’s agricultural sector employs 54 percent of the country’s population. Yet, the traditionally used areas for crop cultivation close to the Nile are being replaced for living, outsourcing agriculture to the remote areas in the arid desert. Due to the geophysical conditions of the region, constant irrigation is required to keep food growing. However, as electrification for water pumping is too expensive, diesel prices are rising, and require transportation to the cultivated areas, solar water pumps are the only way to go. The initiative RaSeed (called into life by the German development programme “Agricultural Water Productivity as Adaptation to Climate Change”) aims to promote the use of PV systems, targeting farm specific optimization of drip irrigation systems (as soils are very sandy), providing high quality solar energy technology and training in Egypt. Given that most farms in Egypt are in remote desert areas, polycrystalline cells have a better cost-efficiency ratio. However, as this system does not provide a backup power source, three different and more advanced solar pump systems were made available: 1) combining solar energy with batteries for excess energy storage (battery based system ), 2) a combination of solar and diesel power (solar fuel saver system ) or 3) a variable speed drive that connects and regulates PV panels and the diesel generator. The latter is the most cost efficient and most adequate for the Egyptian agricultural sector. Read more…

Case Study Kenya – Ongata-Rongai

In some remote areas in Kenya, grid connection is not reliable enough to run irrigation systems without a back-up generator. This has led the Centre of Alternative Technologies (CAT) in Kenya to pilot a highly efficient hydroponic irrigation system running on solar power (for more information, see Tools & Technologies). Integrated with a reverse-osmosis mechanism for nutrient supply, a tracking system is used for constant feed, saving up to 50 percent of the electricity costs. The system is especially interesting for intensive farming where landholding is limited and soils have a low quality. However, capital and operational costs are high, and due to unreliable grid power supply, production losses are also at risk, as the tracking system is essential for continuous water flow. Furthermore, PV panels need to be protected against theft, and under the local conditions, lettuce is the only suitable crop. [/images/3/32/Case_Study_Kenya-_Ongata_Rongai.pdf Case Study Kenya- Ongata Rongai.pdf]

Country Case Study Chile

In the 1980s, the electricity sector in Chile has gone through a process of privatisation and liberalisation. However, small and medium-size farmers have been subsidised, also when using solar water pumps, including up to 90% of investment costs. This has led farmers to form unrealistic expectations about obtaining systems at below-market rates., preventing a market-oriented dissemination of SPIS as subsidies continue. Within the scope of the existing subsidy scheme, about 1,500 solar irrigation pumps have been installed. But the standardised and limited system kits supported by Chilean government subsidies only seldom meet the exact requirements of the target farms, leading to complaints from the farmers, as their solar pump delivers too little water. They also miss the instant high pressure and water flow they are used to from grid supplied electric and diesel engine driven pumps.

Country Case Study India

Grants and subsidies for SPIS technology promotion and demonstration are provided by the Indian government and international donors. 50,000 solar powered pumping systems were installed in 2015. The government uses a combination of subsidy, credit and technical support to promote PV irrigation. An important conclusion is that technical and agronomic assistance should preferably be offered to farmers from one source (one institution) to also facilitate the introduction of PV-powered drip irrigation systems and improved irrigation techniques. In recent years, the Indian private sector started offering SPIS components, and now all main components are produced locally, creating employment in a new sector. Some manufacturers also provide farmers with turn-key solutions, which definitely contributed to better overall system efficiency and performance of the technology. Irrigation water is free of charge and water quality is good. However, groundwater level is constantly falling, which may lead to environmental problems in the near future.

Country Case Study Kenya

Within the Rural Electrification Master Plan (REMP) remote public buildings are equipped with solar PV systems. However, solar-powered irrigation receives no specific support so far. Recently, first private companies started developing the Kenyan market and installed a few hundred SPIS. The main purpose of solar water pumps in rural areas is to secure drinking and livestock water supply. These systems are often sponsored by international donors. In order to bridge grid power failures and to reduce their monthly electricity bill, a number of flower farms and tea plantations have been willing to invest in solar solutions. Although the advantages are evident, the purchase decisions in Kenya still is taken in favour of competing conventional energy systems, as the perception persists that PV is too expensive. The Kenyan company SunCulture offers the cost-effective AgroSolar Irrigation Kit, combining solar pumping technology with a highly efficient drip irrigation system that makes it cheaper and easier to start farming.

Country Case Study Morocco

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) conducted a market assessment in Morocco and identified a solar pump market poised for rapid growth in the medium term. The leading manufacturer Lorentz is leading the local SPIS market and sells about 2,000 pump/controller units per year. The Moroccan SPIS market is mainly driven by small to medium-size private farmers who produce cash crops for the local market and for export. The use of efficient irrigation systems is supported by the government through a subsidisation programme (Plan Maroc Vert). SPIS, however, are only promoted by tax incentives. Although the electrification rate of Morocco is above 95 %, most farmers want to reduce their electricity bill and go for solar power, as grid electricity for irrigation is already more expensive, leading to disconnect their electric pumps and driving the Moroccan solar pump market.

Country Case Study Azapa-Inia (Chile)

This study conducted by the Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA URURI) showed how implementing SPIS and drip irrigation could provide enough energy and increase water use efficiency on a Chilean flower farm under arid conditions. Established 1990 in the main production area of Arica, the producer traditionally watered the crops with surface-furrow irrigation and used imported topsoil to enhance soil quality. Financed by the government (80 percent), the PV system provided enough energy for all farming activities, 50 percent of the energy going into irrigation. Despite including a central fertigation unit, the crops – flowers and passion fruit –, grown on 5.1 ha still required intensive labour activities.

Country Case Study La Tirana (Chile)

Located 1000 m above sea level, in a remote area without access to the public grid, farmers from the Pomegranate farm La Tirana in Chile are used to working with diesel generators. After implementing the first SPIS with a solar tracking system (financed by Companía Nacional de Energía (CONADE) and the Ministry of Energy (MoE)), drip irrigation allowed a satisfactory distribution of the water. However, as the pipes were manually perforated, water discharge was very high and often led to over-irrigation or water losses and further soil salinization. Water for irrigation provided by two deep-wells and stored in a water tank, allows irrigation by gravity at a pressure of 0.3 bar. Better water resource management is required in order to prevent further soil degradation.Read more ...

Case Study India Lalpura

Remotely located but still connected to the public grid was the Vaishali Area Small Farmers Association (VASFA), where 49 farmers share a SPIS to produce staple, oil seed and cash crops on 16.2 This case study showcases a successful pilot project where a group management approach for PV pumping was successfully overtaken. Water pumped from a drilled well and directed into an open canal, from where water is distributed by earthen makeshift field canals. Using a locally manufactured Shakti submersible AC pump with ABB inverter, the system has a 5-year guarantee and allows a daily water output of 165 m³ per day. An old diesel pump serves as a back-up system.These are financed by the fees collected by the association for operation maintenance of the system. There is a demonstration site to inform staff of financing institutions about the reliability and economic feasibility of SPIS. Read more ...

Country Case Study Holgojo Farm (Kenya)

In County Garissa, Kenya, where climatic conditions are rather arid, community land has been converted to farm land in order to settle nomads. As a remote location, there is not access to public grid, but water pumped using a Lorentz PV pump from Tana River provides the site with good quality water and minimizes seasonal shortages. Production is based on low-input practices without fertilisation, as farmers are used to being nomads and have no agricultural experience. The demo-site at Holgojo Farm has proven that PV technology works and created a foundation of multi-user groups and cooperatives which may serve as a model to provide smallholders access to SPIS technology. Furthermore, it has shown that the concept of settling nomads by turning them into part-time farmers is promising. The project was sponsored by the Swedish International development Agency (SIDA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and University of Nairobi. Read more ...

Country Case Study Alaoui (Morocco)

SPIS can also be used under industrial horticultural farming. In Morocco, this grape producer with 35 ha introduced SPIS using a submersible solar pump and a surface pump to provide the site with water from two sources and overcome seasonal shortages. This further reduced costs from the conventional electricity bill and required only two workers to manage the whole farm. The system was implemented and financed by a private investor and integrated by AE Photonics, Morocco. Read more...

Country Case Study Kalalé (Benin)

Benin has a six-month dry season which makes it difficult especially for women farmers to irrigate during the dry season. Thus, Solar Electric Light Fund's (SELF) Solar Market Gardens brings together 30-40 women who then farm collectively using SPIS and drip irrigation. These systems are expensive for individual woman but collectively they have the funds to not only own but also maintain the systems. 20% of the produce from these gardens is used for household consumption and the rest is sold in the market, generating USD 7.5 weekly for each women. There are 11 half-hectare sized solar market gardens in 10 villages in Northern Benin and involve around 400 women.Read more...

Publications & Tools

Solar-powered pumps were first developed in the late 1970s. However, only recently the declining prices of solar panels have allowed the extensive use of this increasingly affordable clean energy solution. The benefits for regions that lack access to electricity have been proven, leading to analyses for further expansion and up-scaling measures that enable a better and sustainable livelihood. The improvements and challenges that solar-powered irrigation systems have been offering and facing in the past decade are described as follows:

Solar Pumping for Irrigation: Improving Livelihoods and Sustainability

Stimulating socio-economic development in agriculture can help the fight against poverty. By adopting solar-based solutions, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable energy for irrigation in areas without access to electricity can lead to an improvement of livelihoods. Key drivers behind the adoption of solar pumping technologies are a broad flexibility when it comes to designing the SPIS; taking into account target groups and the long term sustainability of markets when considering financial instruments to support solar pumping; focusing on after sales support and capacity building; assessing the direct and indirect impacts on water resources; package energy and water-efficient solutions in water-stressed areas; monitoring performance and gathering data; considering the influence of availability and cost of energy on the choice of crops grown; and the adoption of integrated approaches to programme design. The main opportunities offered by solar-powered irrigation systems for farmers are the supply of energy and improved access to water for irrigation, improved yields and increased incomes, reduction of manual work and improved expenditure of time, enhanced crop resilience and food security, more income generating opportunities by complementing staple foods with high-value crops, among others. But also governments can profit by implementing SPIS through the reduction in electricity and fuel use, subsidy savings, reduced fuel imports, creation of small businesses/employment across the value chain, improved reliability of power systems, increased agricultural economic output, and emissions reductions. Read more…

The Benefits and Risks of Solar-Powered Irrigation: An Overview

In 2015, the FAO and GIZ hosted an exploratory workshop to identify the benefits and risks of SPIS in developing countries. Representatives from regions around the globe shared their experiences and knowledge, covering a broad band of climate zones, farming systems and water usages. Besides the benefits of SPIS, there are also challenges like access to finance, especially for small-scale farmers, as well as the accessibility of good quality products and services. Further capacity development activities are needed to ensure users have a basic understanding of set-up and functions of the system, and can take care of the daily operation and maintenance. In line with this, FAO and GIZ have also developed a Toolbox on Solar-Powered irrigation Systems for advisors. The report also stresses the importance of water resource assessments and planning to avoid increasing pressures on water resources. This report looks at how different countries work to create an enabling environment for SPIS technologies, while managing the risks and challenges that come with it. As such, it is a timely reflection of past and future trends and clearly highlights the interlinked nature of water, energy and agriculture. Read more…

A Field Guide to Improve Water use Efficiency in Small-Scale Agriculture: The Case of Burkina Faso, Morocco and Uganda

The Land and Water Division of FAO (CBL) and Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari (CIHEAM IAM) have developed practical measures to improve water use efficiency in small-scale agriculture based on case studies from Burkina Faso, Morocco and Uganda. However, the presented combination of water use efficiency measures should remain flexible since farm conditions are commonly rather unique than universal. 

The Report focuses on the following areas of improvement:

  • Inspection of the hydraulic structures owned and/or operated.
  • Operation and maintenance of the irrigation systems and the hydraulic structures.
  • Irrigation water monitoring and quantification of the available water resources.
  • Adjustment of irrigation schedule to the assessed water requirement. 

Water use efficiency measures have direct impact on yield and on-farm economics through improved productivity, thus, generated income. In addition, quality of output increases as well as more efficient time management. 

In Africa, the irrigation potential is massively unexploited as only 5.8 percent of the cultivated lands are irrigated. The irrigation systems mostly rely on surface water, and only 19.2 percent of the lands are irrigated by groundwater. 

The Field Guide is addressed to agriculture practitioners and researchers. It provides a step-by-step approach in its´ strive to reach optimal irrigation practices. Read more...

Solar Water Pump Outlook 2019: Global Trends and Market Opportunities

This report offers insights on the solar water pump market in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa- Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda- as well as India. It identifies key trends and barriers shaping the market across the areas of technology, customer demand, emerging business models and policy. Additionally it provides recommendations on how to accelerate growth. The focus is on solar pumps designed for small-scale use. 

Advances in solar technology brings down costs and makes solar water pumps more accessible to small-scale farmers. However, although solar currently offer lower lifetime costs, upfront costs are still higher than diesel. This aligned with limited awareness regarding subsidies and other financing opportunities, is one of the reasons why the market remains vastly unpenetrated. Coordination amongst stakeholders and between different value chain actors is seen as crucial, as well as creating a favourable policy environment and expanding research. Read more...

SPIS Toolbox

Many factors determine the type of irrigation method and respective pumping system that suits an agricultural production system best. There are many possible ways of irrigating, which have certain advantages and disadvantages for each use in agriculture. The Toolbox on Solar Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS) can help determining which method suits which agricultural system best. It includes tools for calculation of the crop water requirements, for irrigation scheduling, but also helps setting up the SPIS, making a financing plan and determining the payback time when investing, including even a maintenance guide based on useful checklists for a longer product lifetime. Once the system requirements are determined, the appropriate technologies can be incorporated and help increasing agricultural yields. Read more ...

Best-practice configuration of the different components of a SPIS (©GFA Consultants/SPIS Handbook)

Solar-powered irrigation systems – Technology, Economy, Impacts

Irrigation is essential for productive agriculture, driving productivity and protection yields from drought. However, many farmers still use either manual methods for irrigation or expensive diesel-powered water pumps. Solar-powered irrigation promises to ensure both efficient irrigation and productivity while being environmentally friendly. The report “Solar Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS). Technology, Economy, Impacts” gives a comprehensive overview on the technology. The report examines different irrigation technologies, explains technical characteristics and the design of the system, illustrates maintenance and management requirements, investigates both its financial viability as well as its ecological impacts and offers a comparison of different tools available for designing and managing systems. Finally, the report dives deep by examining the potentials of SPIS in four country case studies, and discussing opportunities and barriers for distribution of SPIS, such as a lack of micro-credits for farmers interested in the technology. Read more ...

Groundwater Study Morocco (in French)

As prices for photovoltaic technologies have been dropping, the Moroccan government has started to substitute subsidies for fossil fuels by subsidies for solar powered pumping systems on 100 000 ha within a time frame of 3 years. Studies from the Integral Water Resource Management agency GIRE (Gestion Intégrée des Resources en Eau) have shown that Moroccan farmers’ behaviour towards water usage strongly depends on water availability and its economic profitability. The implementation of SPIS in Morocco had positive socio-economic consequences for farmers: payback times between 2,7 and 3,6 years and growing incomes of 7600 to 11300 Dh per hectare allowed producers to increase their yields. This affected the local water resources as water consumption augmented significantly in some areas. However, there are regional differences: while 31 percent of farmers from Marrakech declare having consumed more water after SPIS implementation, in Midelt, water use has almost not changed after PV adoption. The factors that have increased water consumption were: the possibility of expanding the irrigated area to neighbouring fields and the introduction of intercrops, and the increase of water supply for the same crop types in areas of water scarcity. Factors that guarantee unchanged water consumption are hydrogeological conditions in groundwater that limit flow rates, fixed irrigated areas and crop rotation that does not allow intercrops. Understanding the influence of SPIS on water consumption is crucial for further investment planning in order to safeguard water resources and avoid environmental risks. Read more…

Solar Pumping Manual for Water Conveyance in Rural Environments (in French)

When planning a solar powered irrigation system (SPIS), it is elementary to previously get familiar with the technical basics of the different disciplines involved in the functioning of such devices. Within the training framework of the Ministère de l’Hydraulique et de l’Assainissement (MHA), this handbook provides basic information for SPIS design and further implementation. Knowledge about electricity fundamentals includes concepts as voltage, resistance, energy losses and the difference between direct current and alternate current, which are the basis to understand how solar energy can be captured and transformed. This again allows optimizing the resource’s exploitation, for which knowledge about the main characteristics of photovoltaic modules, and the effects of solar radiation and temperature is essential. In order to determine the system components’ sizing, it is recommended to evaluate the crop/livestock water requirements onsite. Also, basics on sustainable groundwater extraction should be taken into consideration, as SPIS can easily lead to overexploitation and cause long lasting environmental damage. Finally, it is crucial to estimate the economic impact and the social consequences of installing a SPIS beforehand. Read more…

Mainstreaming of the Nexus Approach in the Context of Solar Pumping for Irrigation (in Spanish)

The 2019 study describes the development of SPIS in Chile, analyses the effect of its implementation, giving recommendations to optimize the existing design of subsidy programs in order to enable a sustainable expansion of SPIS. Chile has implemented several subsidy programs covering up to 90 percent of the total costs. As a result, until 2018, about 3,000 SPIS pumping systems have been installed with public funds. However, to ensure a sustainable expansion of SPIS, capacity needs to be developed, particularly in the context of sustainable water management and maintenance of systems. Generally, a holistic approach need to be pursued on farm level, for example, by avoiding crops not suitable to the area or that require more water than available. Read more …

ICT for Small-Scale Irrigation- A Market Study

Digital solutions for improving irrigation efficiency and monitoring water use in agriculture play an increasingly important role in the debate on small-scale irrigation in international cooperation. On the one hand, technical methods for minimizing irrigation water and reducing the use of fertilizers as well as for saving energy in irrigation technology can be supported. On the other hand, apps can often facilitate management processes and the monitoring of irrigation and operating systems. However, digital applications specifically aimed at small-scale irrigation have only been used sporadically and on a pilot basis in GIZ projects so far.

This study identifies four fields of application where ICT can play a major role for small-scale irrigation farmers. Further it structures existing experiences and illustrates those with showcasing actual ICT solutions. Last but not least the study formulates further requirements for digital applications in this area on the basis of current developments and challenges. Read more...

Solar Irrigation Potential (SIP) Tool

Solar Irrigation Potential (SIP) is an interactive online tool to assess land suitability for irrigation using solar energy. The tool supports the user in identifying suitable areas for solar based irrigation depending on the water sources and pump characteristics. Using a suite of national and international databases to source data including solar irradiation, groundwater levels, aquifer productivity, groundwater storage, groundwater irrigation potential, proximity to rivers, proximity to reservoirs and wetlands, crop and land suitability, roads and travel time to markets, which are combined using a GIS-based Multi-Criteria Evaluation (MCE) technique to give the solar suitability ranking for a selected area. Read more...

The Solar Hub Materials

The Global Solar and Water Initiative team at IOM and OXFAM released a video illustratnig 5 key lessons learnt to ensure good Operation and Maintenance of solar pumping schemes. The Solar Hub was put together in collaboration with UNICEF and Water Missions to support the introduction and scaling up of quality solar water pumping and other solar energy solutions in the WASH sector.

Solar Pumping for Water Supply - Harnessing solar power in humanitarian and development contexts

Solar power for pumping groundwater has a vast potential for improving the sustainability of water supply schemes. However experience also shows that a lack of knowledge, capacity and expertise to design and implement such schemes is holding back their adoption. This book bridges this gap and provides links and references to tools, documents and videos to accompany the content of the different chapters. It is is a state of the art review of solar water pumping technology combined with practical insights, lessons and best practices drawn from experience.

Solar Pumping for Water Supply takes the reader step by step through the different phases that comprise a solar water pumping project, namely: assessment, design, purchase of equipment, installation, operation and management. The book also covers the economics of using solar pumping technology, especially when compared to diesel generators and hand pumps, and considers social aspects.

Essential reading for solar technical practitioners at NGOs, UN agencies, government offices and private sector, including Global and Regional Technical advisors and Field engineers wanting to understand and know how to design water systems using solar power. A basic knowledge in the field of water supply is assumed, but no previous knowledge of solar photovoltaic technology is required.