SunEdison is moving into the water pump market with a solar powered product and a business plan designed to change the way farming is done in India and other emerging economies.
“The benefits make it possible to pay off a system in two-and-a-half to three years, because based on actual experience working with farmers in India, it can increase farm yields by up to 400 percent,” explained Pashupathy Shankar Gopalan, SunEdison Managing Director for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
To irrigate their crops, most of India’s farmers must now choose between an expensive, inefficient diesel-powered water pump or an even more expensive diesel-powered generator to drive an electric pump.
But as the cost of diesel rises, India’s farmers are using less of their land. And when the water table is below about 50 meters, it is too costly to run diesel pumps — so farmers plant only a single, rain-fed crop.
To alleviate these problems, India’s central government subsidizes the 22 million farmers who have chosen to irrigate with electric pumps, Gopalan said. It is the biggest electric water pump market in the world.
With a solar water pump, farmers can increase yield by irrigating more land and by growing multiple crops year-round and by rotating crops, Gopalan said.
Variability is not an obstacle for this solar application because water does not need to be pumped every day of a growing season, Gopalan said. “There are about 60 to 70 days when weather conditions prevent the solar water pump systems from working. About half those days, it is raining. Pumping is unnecessary when it is raining. The other half of those days, it is cloudy or overcast. We have not yet determined whether that is a tolerable factor, but we expect it is.”
India’s irrigation subsidy program costs the government $10 billion annually, but the delivery of the allotted four hours of daily electricity from India’s grid is unreliable and inconvenient, and the resulting irrigation is inefficient, Gopalan said.