In Light of Water Shortage, Solar Can be a Game-Changer in India

If net-metered solar pumps are installed across all states for complete agricultural energy consumption, India would surpass its distributed solar goal of 40 GW by a wide margin, according to a joint study by Greenpeace India, Gujarat Energy Research Management Institute (GERMI), and IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program.

The report highlights that net-metered pumps can not only supply power for farmers’ own consumption, but if sized sufficiently, can result in excess power that can be fed into the grid and farmers can earn extra income from it.

Mercom recently reported that the Gujarat government has announced a similar program called Suryashakti Kisan Yojana (SKY), through which it would provide farmers with solar panels to generate solar power on their lands.

Currently, power required for the agricultural sector is either free or priced nominally, which doesn’t reflect the true cost of power. This puts an extra subsidy burden on state governments and respective distribution companies (DISCOMs). For example, in Gujarat, nearly 27 percent of its electricity goes towards the farm sector, but it gets merely three percent in overall revenue from the sector. Solar pumps can therefore provide energy independence to farmers and reduce the government subsidies and improve the health of DISCOMs.



The study also noted that around-the-clock grid power to farmers have resulted in over-exploitation of groundwater. Solar pumps may provide an incentive for farmers to use water efficiently and divert extra power to the grid to earn additional revenue.

However, the study does sound the alarm for some potential risks. One of the biggest concerns is the quality of solar equipment (modules, inverters, structures and other components) deployed in the field. Most of the highly subsidized rooftop solar systems distributed by installers are not good quality. These systems may not even last for ten years, when the stated lifetime of a solar system is usually 20 plus years. With the recent announcement of 25 percent safeguard duty on imported solar cells and panels the cost of solar pumps are also expected to rise in the short-term.

According to the report, the total farm-top solar potential of the entire country is 148.951 GW with Maharashtra being the highest potential with 21.1 GW, followed by Karnataka (18 GW), Rajasthan (17.5 GW), MP (14.9 GW), Gujarat (12.5GW), Uttar Pradesh (10.8 GW) and Telangana (10.4 GW). The report estimates that, “Even if a modest 10 percent is achieved in the next five years, that would translate to a very significant commissioned capacity of 14.8 GW.”

Mercom had previously reported that under the ‘Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) program, 2 MW of grid-connected solar power projects will be installed in rural areas.

Addressing recent initiatives undertaken by the government on solar pumps, India’s Minister for Power, R. K. Singh, said in the Lok Sabha, “During the financial year (FY) 2017-18, a total of 96,376 solar pumps were sanctioned in various states for both irrigation and drinking water purposes, and 10 percent of the pumps were sanctioned to the states to be utilized for drinking water purposes.”

Image credit: Vishwjeet