Making solar work in agriculture

      A huge number of the world’s poor work in agriculture and many of those are in India and East Africa.  Like other hot, dry climates many farmers rely on diesel-powered pumps to produce water for their fields.  Those pumps may be purchased or rented but the water they generate is absolutely essential to their livelihood of the rural families who work the land.  Those pumps have large initial costs and their operation requires purchase of diesel fuel, reducing the sustainability of these small plots of land.  To make the situation more dire, trends in climate change make many agricultural lands drier each year and the use of diesel-powered equipment further accelerates climate change.

      A small number of creative entrepreneurial ventures have the promise of increasing crop yields and the income of farm families without compromising the planet.  Some of these rely on solar-powered pumps to replace the diesel pumps. When coupled with drip irrigation, the solar-powered pumps allow farmers to increase their yields and often to increase the amount of acreage under cultivation.         One of these start-up companies is SunCulture, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and founded a few years ago.  Another is Affordable Village Solar, among the more recent of the social impact companies founded by Paul Polak, a hyperkinetic inventor and social entrepreneur.  The following paragraphs describe his product, called Sunwater, and is taken from here which describes his three companies.  

     “There are 26 million diesel and electric pumps being used for irrigation today in India alone. Solar powered pumps could effectively compete with diesel pumps if their capital cost were dramatically lower than the $7,000 (US) it costs now to install a typical 2kw solar panel, motor and pump system. In addition,  there are more than a billion people in the world who now lack access to electricity.

      “With a team of engineers from Ball Aerospace, we have field tested in Gujarat, India and are continuing to improve a solar pump that lowers the present cost of photovoltaic pumping by 80%, making it competitive with diesel pumps, and providing affordable solar electricity to rural villages that need it. This significant drop in the functional cost of photovoltaic electricity in rural villages will make it possible to establish thousands of profitable village PV based enterprises in partnership with Sunwater, much like Spring Health has done in selling affordable safe drinking water.

       “SunWater tested its system in Gujarat, India with vegetable farmers and salt farmers. Farmers increased their annual income up to 80% using the system. SunWater is now testing the solar pump, drip irrigation system with smallholder farmers in Bihar, India, which presents potentially a market for 11 million solar pumps. The potential market for solar irrigation throughout India and other emerging markets presents an enormous opportunity for profitable business as well as impacting the livelihoods of the rural poor.

An old diesel pump sets by the well as a new SunWater system is installed.

An old , heavy diesel pump sits by the well as a new SunWater system is installed.

      “To discover more about Affordable Village Solar’s mission and model visit

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