The need for Innovations in Rural Solar Solutions

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Agriculture is the largest as well as the most important professional sector in India. About half of the country’s population is dependent on the agrarian sector for employment but the whole nation is dependent on agriculture for food, the fundamental element for survival. Nowadays the occupation of farming is facing many practical challenges, some that are forcing farmers to live an economically imbalanced life. A major part of the blame for this situation can be put upon the cost of irrigation in the country. The expensive nature of non-renewable power sources (like petrol and diesel) which are used in crop production processes, especially to power pumps for irrigation, is the major reason for farmers’ financial struggle. Farmers use up most of their earnings in the frequent purchase of petrol and diesel. This burns a major hole in farmers’ pockets.

One of the solutions to deal with this issue is by switching over to renewable sources of energy to power irrigation. Solar pumping is one such method. Solar pumps are less expensive and are also easy to maintain. A one time investment provides long term benefits to farmers. These pumps only require a good amount of sunlight to work, thus saving a lot of money for farmers. They are environmentally friendly and do not pollute farmers’ habitats.

The Government of India has undertaken a number of measures to improve the conditions of farmers, especially to help them switch to solar. This includes subsidies in the purchase of solar pump sets, exemption from excise duties for solar and concession on equipment used to set up solar apparatus. Apart from this, a 30% subsidy is given to general category states and 70% to special category states, in the purchase of solar.

Despite these leg-ups, though, the farmers’ lifestyle remains unchanged. TO understand why, we have categorized the issues among the following points –

A few of the hurdles faced by farmers in switching over to solar energy:

– Although India is the second largest irrigated country in the world, only about one third of cultivable area is currently under irrigation. Irrigation forms the fundamental on which crop production is based especially in a place like India where rainfall is uncertain and unreliable.

– Farmers are unable to switch over to solar pumps or panels because primarily they are unaware about the benefits. They have no understanding of the working of the system, or about its sustainable nature.

– Small scale farmers, despite all the subsidies and schemes, are still not able to afford solar panels and pumps because they don’t have the money to make the one time investment required to set up the solar pump system. Their loans are also not easily approved because they do not possess any entity to put up for mortgage.

– The farmers residing in areas which receive a huge amount of rainfall, and do not experience too many sunny days, feel that even if they get solar pumping systems installed for their farming, it will not be much beneficial for them.

– The aged farmers have placed their faith in traditional methods of farming and do not want to look at anything beyond those. Convincing them about the harmful effects of using fossil fuels is far harder than may seem on paper.

– Because of a lack of education, many farmers are unable to understand the working of renewable energy technology – a basic understanding is needed for getting a good insight into the benefits, both financial and environmental, of this technology.

These problems of the farming system are not easy to solve. One characteristic of the current solar pumping systems could be changed to facilitate solutions for most of these problems – mobility.

  • Making solar pumping sets mobile could help small scale vendors or farmers carry out their work in a more economical way. Mobility would pave the way for Solar Water Pumping sets to be used on a sharing, pay-per-use basis. They will become much more cost effective.
  • Most static solar pumping sets lose out on a lot of potential energy generation because there is only so much water that a farmer will need for irrigation in an entire year of cultivation. Thus, making a solar pumping set mobile could prove to be an efficiency boosting move for solar pumping usage. The pump set could reach any particular location based on demand, and then over on to the next requirement request after completing its work at a particular location. Any customer would pay only according to the energy they have used – economical as well as useful.
  • Unlike static pump sets, the farmer will be able to compare the cost of using mobile solar pumping solutions to that of  renting a diesel pump set for the same duration. This gives the farmer a more realistic and clearer price comparison, as against that of the long term investment demanded by a static solar pump set.

A solution like this could not only lessen the burden from the farming system, but could also help in fighting problems like farmer suicide. It could be a positive offset for financial conditions, bad crops and failed monsoons.