Water is an essential input for food cultivation. Globally, 20 percent of cultivated land is irrigated, while millions of smallholder farmers lack access to water for irrigation, often due to lack of energy for pumping.
Solar irrigation pumps have emerged as a promising alternative to conventional diesel and electricity powered pumps. Several developing countries are increasingly supporting their uptake. The advantages of solar pumps include smaller carbon footprint, zero operational costs, easy maintenance and long lifetime. However, their high capital costs and potential for unregulated water extraction have raised concerns about their sustainability. As the interest in solar pumps is rising, how can we ensure that farmers can use solar irrigation in both affordable and sustainable manner?
A focus article in WIREs Energy and Environment sheds light on 14 key factors that would determine whether solar pumps are economically viable, environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable, under any local context. These include factors such as crop water requirement, depth of water source, and scale of farming, cost of alternatives, system quality, after-sales service, water use efficiency, and technology awareness, among others. Drawing from the best practices and experiences in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the article also suggests ways to incorporate sustainability concerns in solar pump programs and policies.
In many countries, policies tend to address only one key issue, such as focus on subsidies and finance to make technology affordable. While this presents itself as an easy fix, it often leads to problem shifting between different sustainability dimensions, say from economic to environmental. This is because a technology’s sustainability is influenced by several factors, even as the impact and importance of each factor varies with the local context. Therein lies the utility of this work, as it emphasizes that policy makers and key stakeholders should take note of the diversity of local factors and adopt a holistic approach to technology deployment and use.
Kindly contributed by Shalu Agrawal.