Solar pumping for irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability

Image Credit: Prashanth Vishwanathan (IWMI) Flicker

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an intergovernmental organization that helps countries move to more sustainable energy options. The Agency also provides a focal point for governments from around the world to work together and share information on clean tech best practice. IRENA recently released a policy brief Solar Pumping for Irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability, this brief forms part of a broader agenda focused on renewable energy opportunities in the agriculture and water sector. 

The policy brief touches on the important issue that is the water, energy and food nexus, which is the intrinsic linkage of energy which is required to access water that is needed to grow food. For developing countries where malnutrition is higher, access to water to grow food is a necessity, but the cost of fuel for irrigation can be prohibitive for many smallholder farmers. Being able to access water using the power of the sun is the perfect example of a 'cleanleap' technology, using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. 

Some of the key highlights from the policy brief:

  • 40% of people are employed in the agriculture sector worldwide, with many living in poverty. Increasing the productivity of farming by 10% increases socio-economic capacity by 7% in Africa and 5% in Asia. Irrigation is one such tool to increase output. 
  • The majority of food is grown on land which is watered by rain - 95% in Africa and 60% in South East Asia. Using irrigation in these areas can increase the output and the productivity. Irrigated land total is only 20% but produces 40% of the food in the world.
  • Fossil fuel based electricity and diesel generators are used to power the majority of irrigation pumps around the world, using annually the same amount of power as Singapore in a year -  around 62 terra watt hours.  
  • Using solar power as a replacement of fossil fuel based sources is more environmentally friendly and financially sustainable over a longer period of time. Implementing new solar powered pumps in areas where there is no grid infrastructure provides a way for communities to grow their own food, where once they had no access to water to grow crops. 

Read more about solar pumps on Cleanleap