Agricultural growth and development of Bihar has remained constricted because of irrigation energy deficiency in the state. Ironically, although the region has a vast reserve of groundwater resources, the progress in the area of irrigation has remained stagnant. Electricity is both inadequate and irregular and its consumption for irrigation is very low. Cultivators in th e region are primarily dependent on diesel based irrigation which they find difficult to afford. Many farmers even ha ve to forgo the entire Summer/ ’ Garma ’ crop because of lack of resources. In this scenario, solar water pumps, which are capable of providin g economical and reliable irrigation, were introduced to address the irrigation woes of the farmers .
Reviving Defunct Community Tube Well Cluster Many of the tube wells in the Nalanda district of Bihar had become defunct as they were equipped with diesel engines that consumed around 3 litres of f u e l per hour of operation; as a result irrigation became unaffordable for farmers. Only a few of the comm unity tube wells with access to electricity in the vicinity remained operational. To initiate a solution to these problems, the Department of Minor Water Resources – Bihar, in partnership with Claro Energy launched a program in 2012 to solari z e 34 existing tube wells in 20 villages of the district. This was the first large scale initiative in Eastern India to use non – conventional sources of energy for groundwater utilization. This project aimed for dual accountability i.e. to demonstrate effectiveness of the technology and to showcase an institutional model of solar power based irrigation in the state.
The tube wells which were selected to be operated on solar power were located in 20 villages in five blocks of the Nalanda district. The tube wells were equipped with 7.5 HP submersible pumps with discharge capacity of 70,000 litres per hour. The solarization was carried out by Claro Energy. Three components were added to the existing tube wells ; Solar modules of 8.5 kW ca pacity, Variable frequency controller (VFD), and Remote monitoring systems. In addition to this, Claro Energy was given the responsibility of operations and maintenance of the solarized tube wells for five years.
Economical Irrigation Made Possible
As mentioned earlier, majority of farmers in the region were dependent on diesel pumps. With consistent increase in price o f diesel, irrigation rates were soaring. There were additional problems, reportedly, relating t o adulteration of fuel and cheating by the pump owners in measurements. Although tube well irrigation based on electric power was available in a few villages of the region; facility of three phase electric power was awaited in large parts of rural areas. I n some villages electric tube wells were working but power was available only for 4 – 5 hours per day. There was no fixed schedule; farmers kept waiting and on many occasions had to irrigate fields at night. In this situation, solar water pumps came as a boo n to beneficiary farmers.
Additional Income Generation
Prior to installation of the Solar Water pumps, most farmers did two cultivations in a year as growing the crop in the peak summer season was practically impossible for them owing to h igh evaporation and resulting increase in irrigation cost s . Those farmers who did grow the ‘ garma ’ crop had to opt for variet ies which were less water intensive. This led to limited revenues because of the low commercial value of cultivated crops. Solar pumps operate very effectively during peak summers, owing to the high sunlight irradiation. Beneficiaries shared that in t his p eriod, a solar tube well (7.5 HP) can support irrigation in up to 40 hectares of cropped area (over 3 seasons) . Hence, the farmers were able to have yearlong access to assured and economical irrigation and could now grow t hree crops instead of just two, in cluding high valued commercial crops. Solar Pumps had thus resulted in additional income generation, increased land utilization and crop diversification. Social And Environmental Impact The program helped in reducing 511 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, while providing water supply to 1,600 acres of land. At least 45 direct and 80 indirect jobs were created and the project benefited more than 3,000 families in the Nalanda district.
Maintenance Of Installation
Predominantly the solar pumps functioned without any interruptions and problems. In case of any issue, operators were expected to call the local office (in the district headquarter) for help. Presence of a local office with competen t technical staff helped in extending quick response and solutions. Claro Energy’s team provided extensive training to the operators which made the daily operation easier for the beneficiaries.
The Nalanda project demonstrates the effectiveness of the solar technology and it has presented an institutional model for growth of solar pumps. Showcasing immense possibilities that solar power based tube wells offer, it has shown how solar pumps can significantly con tribute in reducing irrigation – energy deficits and how ensuring groundwater based agriculture growth in Bihar can help in significant increase in the total cultivated area and income generation.