Solar water pumps for irrigation in Manipur

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

Pump sets being put to work to draw water
Pump sets being put to work to draw water :: Pix - TSE

The Government of India has set a lofty target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022, the 75th year of Independence. Irrigation is one of the most important enabling factors to achieve that target.

In the context of Manipur, irrigation projects especially those in the category of major and medium are yet to benefit the farming. Farmers, by and large, are dependent on monsoon rain for the main kharif crop of paddy. It is only when there is drought like situation, farmers really feel the need for irrigation. As of now, major areas depend on rain for farming.

Since major and medium irrigation projects have long gestation periods and require large investment, it may be prudent to look for localized irrigation projects with less investment, which give the benefits immediately. Lift irrigation under minor irrigation projects are partly successful till the pumps are maintained properly. Presumably, because of the high cost of operation, maintenance and lack of ownership, lift irrigation by using diesel pumps tend to fail as time passes.

Our state has very heavy rainfall during the monsoon. By creating suitable water harvesting structures and reservoirs, it is possible to store rain water during the lean period till the next rainy season. Such stored water can be conveniently used for irrigation. Some pilot projects of water harvesting by Central Agricultural University, Manipur in Imphal East district have proved that it is possible to grow crops round the year and increase the income of farmers.

How can solar energy help in irrigating the fields? Solar cells in solar panels or modules are connected and packaged together. When sunlight falls on the solar cells,electricity is generated as DC, which can be directly connected to a DC water pump to energize it. Installation of a solar water pump for irrigation is very simple. Solar panels are connected in series and the two ends of wire at junction box are connected to a DC pump.

In case of AC water pump, an inverter is used to convert DC from the solar panels to AC before connecting to the pump. Depending on requirements, one can install solar panels to use pumps of any horse power. DC water pumps are slightly more expensive than AC water pumps. For tube wells, we can use submersible pumps.

NABARD implemented a scheme of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India to extend capital subsidy of 40% for installation of solar water pumping system for irrigation and other purposes. Since the release of subsidy was linked to the credit from financial institutions and difficulties in accessing the credit by the farmers, the scheme was not successful in Manipur. Now, the Ministry of MNRE has discontinued the scheme of providing the subsidy for solar water pumps.

The Government of India is likely to launch a new scheme to promote use of solar power by the farmers, namely, “KUSUM” (Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan) with an investment of Rs.1.4 crores. This scheme was announced by Union Finance Minister during Budget speech of 2018-19. Under the scheme, the farmers will be given capital investment subsidy of 30% each by the Centre and state governments, and 30% as loan by banks and 10% by the farmers.

The scheme envisage
1) Installation of grid-connected solar power plants each of capacity up to 2 MW in the rural areas;
2) Installation of standalone off-grid solar water pumps to fulfill irrigation needs of farmers not connected to grid;
3) Solarisation of existing grid-connected agriculture pumps to make farmers independent of grid supply and also enable them to sell surplus solar power generated to DISCOM and get extra income; and
4)Solarisation of tube-wells and lift irrigation projects of Government sector.

There may be many difficulties in implementation of the scheme as the state governments may not have resources to pay their shares. Further, banks may not be willing to extend any credit as they are already having problems of NPAs and there are murmurings and announcements of loan waivers for farmers.

Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have implemented the scheme of solar water pumps extensively by giving subsidy up to 90%, and farmers contribute only 10% of the total cost. Before solar pumps, farmers used either the grid or diesel to run the pumps. The cost of operation of pumps by diesel is not only expensive, but it also pollutes the environment. Power supply from the grid is also erratic and not completely dependable. Farmers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are very happy in using solar water pumps for irrigation as they are now independent of the grid and their income has gone up.

In Manipur too, State Agriculture Department has provided subsidy to install a few solar water pumps at some locations. Since the subsidy amount is less than 90%, it is very difficult for farmers to bear the balance cost. The state government of Manipur may implement the scheme with similar financial assistance as being done by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

The source of water for irrigation can be localized by creating farm ponds for a few contiguous farmers or accessing water of rivers or rivulets, if available, or by using ground water. Farmers should adopt drip irrigation to save water and increase production while planting cash crops or vegetables.

With the decline in price of solar panels, the cost of installation of solar power plants is coming down every year. Bloomberg has predicted that global price of solar panel will come down by 35% in 2018 since Chinese solar power generation will be less in 2018 and excess solar panels will flood the global market.

Farmers will earn extra income from solar plants on the farms by exporting unused power to the grid over a period of 25 years, which is the accepted life of solar panels. Further, by having irrigation facilities from solar power, the farmer can grow crops and vegetables round the year.

In order to realize the potential, it will be necessary to adopt an integrated approach. Departments of Agriculture, Horticulture, Power, MANIREDA(Manipur Renewable Energy Development Agency) and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India should work together to cover as many farms, both in the hills and valley of Manipur, to implement solar pumps for better income of farmers, cleaner air and savings of diesels.

Some beginning has been made. They should have demonstration effect so that other farmers see the benefit of solar water pump. Since the strength of Manipur lies in agriculture and horticulture, it becomes imperative to invest in related infrastructure like solar pumps in a big way.

Views expressed are personal.

* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 23, 2018.

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