The world’s population is growing at an alarming rate, stretching out into remote areas across the continents and increasing the density of cities. The basic needs of the people remain the same across the globe – adequate shelter, healthy food, plentiful clean water, sanitation and healthcare provisions.
A clean source of water is the key to much of this. We need reliable pumps to transport water from rivers and underground sources for clean drinking water, plumbing and irrigation for crops. The problem comes in providing the right source of the irrigation system, with the right power source, to the right areas. Large-scale US operations and small scale farms in Africa both need a reliable, cost-effective approach to the best yields and savings.
Solar powered irrigation looks like the best solution for many situations.
Large-scale irrigation systems need a lot of power to keep all the pumps and systems working as required. The problem is that this can be a logistical nightmare in many remote locations. Those that rely on typical grid-based energy sources will struggle to get the power supplies needed to these areas and find that the costs can be astronomical.
The solution for many is to switch to an off-grid solution where renewable energy keeps the water systems operational and reliable. Solar is the obvious choice in many of these areas. Still, there are concerns over solar irrigation systems and problems to overcome.
So, how does this solar system work? What problems do users face? Also is solar the best option out there for anyone looking for off-grid irrigation?
The concern with solar stems from ongoing concerns about the reliability of this power source.
We have to remember that there are still those that criticize solar because the power goes away a night – completely ignoring the potential of battery packs. There are some areas where solar will be far more beneficial than others due to weather and climate. These are often the areas that need these irrigation systems the most.
Large-scale irrigation works to water fields and crops in areas of minimal rainfall or more arid conditions. It helps to help the ground wet and fertile when mother nature struggles to provide the optimal conditions for growth in the area. This is largely down to the amount of heat and sunshine. Therefore, it makes sense in these areas to turn the situation around and use all that sunshine.
One has to remember that these remote locations are also where engineers build so many solar farms across the country. These flat plains in sun-soaked areas are ideal for harnessing this energy. It doesn’t take much for farmers to give over a small area of land for a personal solar farm – with no shade to worry about. Alternatively, they can put the panels up on the roofs of the outbuildings.
Large-scale Solar Powered Irrigation Is Nothing New
One of the best places to see the potential of solar powered irrigation in action is not the US, but Australia. This is a sun-soaked land with vast areas of dry, arid landscape. Farming and crop development can be tricky in these remote areas without the right power source and irrigation system.
Solar panels and solar systems provide power to bores and surface water solutions to water crops and provide drinking water for vital livestock. Where does the water come from?
A ground source like a well is often the best solution here if engineers can tap into a strong supply. Alternatively, there is the chance to pump water from a nearby stream – depending on proximity and the quality of the irrigation system. The pumped water often collects in a storage system with a gravity feed, which makes it easier to pump the water as needed across the fields.
Any region that deals with low rainfall and a high demand for crops need a quick, effective solution for irrigation. This is the only way to ensure locally-sourced produce. The alternative is to admit defeat and rely on imports. This is increasingly difficult with trade agreements, environmental concerns over shipping and a growing desire for local goods in stores and restaurants.
There are therefore two options available for US growers in need of irrigation solutions. They can either stick with the expensive, damaging solutions with diesel and AC power or turn to a renewable source like solar. The appeal of solar intensifies when we look at the popularity and results in projects within developing nations.
Solar Powered Irrigation In Developing Countries
The use of these solar powered systems takes on a whole new meaning in developing areas. Here there is still a focus on improved agricultural benefits in areas of extreme drought.
There is also the potential for bore service to provide water from wells and rivers for clean water solutions. This means drinking water for those that struggle to obtain access to remote areas. These communities may be a great risk of waterborne disease and other unsanitary conditions, and this clean water supply could help to decrease the rate of illness. It also means water for cleaning and bathing.
It is no surprise that solar is the leading option in powering these developments in African nations, as there has been something of a solar boom on the continent in recent years.
Areas that struggle with mains electricity supplies in more regions have the chance to harness the power of the sun and power their homes and machinery with solar systems. Decreasing costs and increased availability of parts mean that it is easier than ever to enjoy the benefits.
Kenya is a great example of a country embracing solar powered irrigation. 80% of the land here deals with unpredictable rainfall and the potential for drought. Therefore, farmers here are less inclined to work with rain-fed agriculture.
In the past, many turned to flooding the land to saturate the soil and increase their chances. However, this has negative environmental implications, with soil erosion and depletion of minerals from the water source. Others turned to drip irrigation with diesel pumps – another environmental problem with the added issues of running costs and inefficiency.
The solution here was this solar system with the electric pump, storage tank, and gravity flow. This cut costs and increased yields, for an incredibly advantageous outcome for local farmers. It is also more efficient, with the watering process occurring in just 15 minutes. Companies estimate that it can increase yields by 300% and save water by 80%.
It is clear that solar powered irrigation has great potential for American agriculture in the right areas. Still, the implications go further than that.
The main focus here is on developing countries and wide scale agricultural benefits. This is understandable given the full implications of these solar pumped water courses in vulnerable areas. However, there is another side to solar powered irrigation. One that American consumers can benefit from.
The potential and ease of use of solar powered irrigation allow for interesting solutions within the personal property. Companies now scale down the systems for personal use within gardens. Naturally, developers took this concept and found a way to mass market the approach for a wider audience.
Automated irrigation systems are a great idea for all those that don’t have the time to continually water their plants and vegetables at home – especially in hotter climates. Then there are those that have large plots that need something more substantial than a water butt and a watering can.
These at-home solar powered irrigation systems shrink the components down for a similar approach. The general water containment system of the garden acts like the underground storage container on the farms. Lines of irrigation connect to hanging baskets, raised beds and planter and transport the water on a regular basis.
The power for the pump comes from a small solar panel. The principle remains the same – when the sun comes out, and the plants need water, the system takes advantage of the energy and reacts accordingly. Much like within the wide-scale solutions in Africa, there is praise for the energy and water efficiency of this approach.
Some systems can water everywhere in the garden with 90% less water than a hose. This is ideal in areas that suffer from water restrictions and bans during times of drought. Homeowners and growers can still produce their flowers and vegetables with peace of mind in these difficult times, without wasting this precious water.
There are still some problems with this approach that users need to be aware of.
The broad range of solutions, from the farm to the garden, highlights the potential of these solar systems. However, there are still some concerns over reliability and cost compared to current AC systems or diesel pumps.
It is important to find the right parts for the job for a functional system that covers the right area. There aren’t too many parts that go into these systems, but they do need to suit the purpose.
All users need a system with the right pump for the bore or water source, a strong enough panel and power supply to get the job done, and a storage container. Some will choose a smarter model with trackers and other devices to regulate the flow and add a timer.
At the moment, there are still some areas that will prefer the diesel approach because of the cost. This is how they have always pumped their land, and it remains the cheapest, most attractive option to many. The problem is that some will see the short term costs of the equipment and installation – not the long term costs.
Over time, the solar option could save users a lot of money. We cannot forget that the benefits seen in Kenya relate to all kinds of users in any area where irrigation is essential. Also, the continued development of small-scale consumer products shows the potential for mass-produced systems and cheaper parts.
As for the efficiency, the right system, with the rights panels and pumps, should be just as effective in these sunny, arid areas. The only problem with efficiency comes in places with limited sunshine – such as colder climates and hillsides – or if users fail to optimize the panels and gravity flow. Those with these solar irrigation systems for the garden are more likely to experience inefficiency than those farming out on the sunny plains.
Finally, we need to look at the alternatives for powering these irrigation systems. Is solar the best option here?
Standard, grid-based electricity is the obvious, common alternative here. Many developing areas would still focus on this option were solar, not available. The alternative is that diesel powered pump. These options are preferable to AC systems due to their efficiency, but there is the issue of reliance on a fossil fuel.
Not only does this have clear environmental implications, in a world keen to turn its back on coal, oil, and gas, there are cost and availability issues too.
There are agricultural wind turbines in place in some areas, as a green alternative. Many find solar to be the more reliable and cost effective option. There is always a dislike of wind power over solar. These turbines are not as reliable in these climates, and there is the additional fact that they can be pretty ugly.
Solar is the best approach for irrigation and can only continue to help communities across the world.
It is clear that these solar systems are the best option for wide scale, energy, and water efficient irrigation across the world. There are limitations to the approach, such as the reliance on the sun and some cost issues. However, there are plenty of benefits over AC systems, diesel-fueled pumps or other renewable sources.
There is also the fact that these solar options prove their reliability in all kinds of situations. This is an effective, affordable and environmental option across the continents, with large-scale agricultural applications and personal ones.
Solar simply makes the most sense. Crops need more water during times of high heat and sunlight, so why not use all that sunlight and energy to improve the irrigation process.