Food production has declined over the years due to unpredictable weather patterns and the declining land size due to population growth. As a result, people have resorted to irrigation to ensure continuous food production.
Irrigation requires a water supply. Usually, a water reservoir is located some distance away from the farmland, requiring pumping. Over the years, farmers have used diesel pumps and grid-tied pumps to move water over a distance, and both have proved expensive.
Solar power irrigation systems came into the picture as an eco-friendly and cost-effective solution. If you ever carried water from a distance, then you understand the energy needed to achieve that. Luckily, farmers can now use free solar energy to irrigate their crops.
- How Does Solar Irrigation System Work?
- Products Of A Solar Powered Irrigation System
- Why Solar Irrigation System?
- Is Solar Irrigation System Reliable?
- Pros and Cons of Solar Irrigation Systems
- Dangers of Using Solar Powered Irrigation Systems
- Final Thoughts on Solar Power Irrigation
How Does Solar Irrigation System Work?
A simple solar irrigation system consists of a solar panel, solar water pump, and a hosepipe, assuming you already have a water reservoir and a farm to irrigate.
During the day, the electrons in the cells of the silicon solar panels are excited to move, thereby producing electricity.
The generated electricity is used by the solar water pump to provide the energy needed to push water through the hose pipe to the destination. Water can be pumped into elevated water storage tanks for later use or used immediately.
For solar irrigation to work, there should be the sun to provide electricity. Also, the solar panels have to be efficient to convert heat energy from the sun to electricity for the pump.
If you do not have a solar water pump, you can use an inverter and an AC-powered water pump.
Products Of A Solar Powered Irrigation System
A solar-powered irrigation system can be very simple or complex, depending on the size of your farm. Different products used depend on the output and reliability required. The following are the various parts likely to make up a solar irrigation system:
- Solar panel – This is the main component in the system and why it is called a solar irrigation system. It converts solar energy to electrical energy needed by the solar pump.
- Solar water pump – This is the horse of the system. It converts the electrical energy from the solar to mechanical energy needed to push water from the reservoir to the farm through the hosepipes.
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- Irrigation system – Consists of the pipes and other components that ensure water reaches the root zones of the irrigated crops.
- Water reservoir – You cannot have an irrigation system without a source of water. The reservoir holds water waiting to be pumped to the needed location.
- Overhead water tank – This is optional in some cases, but you might need to store water near the farm for later use even when the solar pump is turned off. Water from the reservoir is pumped into an overhead tank waiting for irrigation.
- Solar battery bank – You might also need to store solar energy to be used later for pumping water. That is where a solar battery bank comes in.
Why Solar Irrigation System?
Many reasons led to the invention of solar irrigation systems. In many cases, farmlands are located in rural areas where the electricity is unreliable. Some places do not even have access to the grid power, leaving them with diesel-driven water pumps as the next option.
Diesel-driven water pumps require fuel to work. In rural areas, access to diesel or petrol is a big challenge. This fuel is also expensive, which most farmers cannot afford. There is also the issue of environmental pollution when burning carbon fuels.
Solar irrigation systems came into the picture as a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution. You only incur the initial cost and enjoy free energy for many years with just a little maintenance.
Farmers, both small-scale and large scale, can now afford solar panels and solar pumps.
Places You Can Have Solar Powered Irrigation
Solar-powered irrigation systems can be used in places with enough sunlight. The main factor to consider is the availability of solar energy from the sun. As such, it might not be a feasible idea to think of it if you reside in temperate countries.
Tropical regions can benefit most from solar power irrigation systems because of the availability of the sun throughout the year. They also lack snow and ice, which can potentially reflect solar radiation back to space.
How Do You Know the Size of the Solar Panel You Need?
This is a very tricky question, we have to admit. You have to consider many factors before going to the market for a solar panel and solar-powered water pump. We will talk about some of these factors in this section.
Water consumption requirement
Whether you need a solar irrigation system for irrigating your home-based garden or agricultural farm, you have to approximate daily water usage. Use these statistics to write down the specifications of solar panels and solar water pumps.
For example, if you use between 1,300 to 2,600 liters for irrigation daily, then a 50-watt solar panel is preferred. A 12-V solar pump can pump this water in about one hour, depending on the distance and elevation of the land.
Elevation for the Surface
It takes more energy to pump water uphill. That is because the pump will be working against gravity and will, therefore, need extra power. More time will also be taken to move the same amount of water that could be done in just an hour.
If the water reservoir is located downhill or the borehole is relatively deep, you will need a more powerful solar panel and solar pump set. Hire a technician if you do not have experience using these parameters in determining the correct rating for the photovoltaic panel and pump.
Is Solar Irrigation System Reliable?
To some extent, yes, and the other, no. Why do we have varied opinions regarding this question? A solar irrigation system is very beneficial to farmers and agriculture in general, but not without limitations.
We will look at the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy irrigation systems later, but let us use some of them to back up our response to this question.
Solar Irrigation is light-dependent
Without light, you cannot have water to irrigate your crops. The recommended times for irrigation are early in the morning and late in the evening. These are the very times of the day when we least have solar energy if at all we have it.
So, what should farmers do to ensure they irrigate their crops at the best time of the day? There are two possibilities, and all add to the cost of installing a solar irrigation system. Let us talk about them in detail.
Using an Overhead Water Tank
An overhead tank makes it possible to store potential energy. First, solar energy is converted to electrical energy to drive the solar water pump. Solar water pump converts it to mechanical energy needed to push water through the hose pipes to the reservoir tank.
Water in the overhead tank possesses potential energy. If the valves are opened, they will flow down by gravity to the irrigation systems and water crops. This means water is pumped when there is sun and can be used at any time.
Using Solar Battery Banks
Alternatively, the generated electrical energy can be stored in the battery banks as chemical energy. When there is peak energy conversion by the photovoltaic cells, the electricity is wired to the battery through a charge controller.
When the right time for irrigation comes, the solar water pump is connected to the battery to draw the energy needed to pump water.
The two possible methods are expensive, especially if you have to irrigate large tracts of land. The cost of water tanks is as high as that of solar batteries. But then, we still have another cause of solar irrigation system unreliability.
Solar Irrigation System is Season Dependent
This irrigation system depends on solar energy, which relies on the sun’s heat. We are all aware that light intensity and heat from the sun vary from season to season. It is at the peak in summer and lowest in winter.
Food production from farms depending on solar irrigation systems will fluctuate. There might not be enough sun in the winter to provide the needed electricity for pumping water, not unless many solar panels are cascaded. But that will increase the production cost.
In general, solar irrigation systems are beneficial to farmers. If we assume their dependence on the sun and season, they are just a revolutionary invention to ensure sustainable food production.
Pros and Cons of Solar Irrigation Systems
Are you planning to shift to an off-grid living? If yes, then a solar irrigation system can form part of your plan. It might not be optional for many farmers out there, but do we know its benefits and disadvantages? Let us get enlightened!
Advantages of Solar Energy Irrigation
Renewable and eco-friendly
Unlike other energy sources that threaten to get depleted, solar energy can never be exhausted. It is here with us today and will still exist for future generations. Using solar energy, you can harness free solar power for irrigation.
Water pumps that depend on diesel and other fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases that destroy the ozone layer. The continual emission of such gases into the atmosphere is threatening our planet.
If you care about mother nature, then it is time to switch to green energy.
Switch to solar-powered irrigation systems to conserve the environment for coming generations.
Reduced energy bills
Solar panels provide a way of living away from the grid. It might look insignificant if you are not a heavy consumer of electricity, but it is a different story for commercial users. It is about time to detach yourself from a grid-tied life.
Solar power irrigation cushions you from electricity bills and the cost of buying fuels. Additionally, you can get paid for supplying power to the grid just in case you have a large enough solar power plant.
Using a bidirectional energy meter, you can get an alternative source of income.
Energy from the solar panels is not exclusive to irrigation. You can divert it to some other uses if producing more than you need for agriculture. Think of it as an alternative source of light and other applications around your home or farm.
In fact, anything that uses electricity can benefit from a solar power irrigation system. What about using the same energy to distill or purify water for other domestic use? You have unlimited options.
Low maintenance cost
Apart from the relatively high upfront cost, you do not incur any other charges for using your solar power irrigation system. Worries about monthly bills, cost of fuel, and maintenance cost are all gone!
Solar panels can serve you for as long as 30 years. Most solar pumps come with a 10-year warranty, meaning you have a grace period to reap from your investment. Other electrical components of the system are equally easy to maintain.
Solution of the future
As technology is advancing, we expect to see a significant increase in the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and, consequently, a drop in the production cost. It will be, no doubt, the energy solution that the world is eagerly waiting for.
Nanotechnology is rapidly advancing, giving us hope of a future free and clean energy.
Increased food production
Irrigation, in general, is beneficial to agriculture. Solar power irrigation systems have significantly improved crop production, especially in rural areas with no electricity from the national grid.
Disadvantages of Solar Power Irrigation
- High Initial cost – You will indeed need to pay heavily to acquire all the equipment for a solar-powered irrigation system. This high upfront cost is what has barred many people from going solar.
- Expensive to store – Solar energy is usually available when we do not need it. Keeping it for future use proves costly to many people. As mentioned, you need an overhead water storage tank or a solar battery bank.
- Weather-reliant – Without the sun, there is no solar power. This means that any activity that depended on it will either stop or decline, making it unreliable.
Dangers of Using Solar Powered Irrigation Systems
Apart from the cons of solar energy irrigation highlighted above, there is still a long-term effect of adopting the method. Its use should be regulated and farmers educated on the importance of using water-efficient irrigation methods.
It is the nature of human beings to misuse what is readily available, and that is likely what some farmers might do.
They will switch to succulent crops that use more water, while some of them might shift to overhead irrigation systems instead of water-efficient drip irrigation.
The long-term effect of water wastage and poor water maintenance is the depletion of water in the aquifers. Aquifers are water-bearing rocks, which supply wells with water. No one can predict when that will happen, but what is known is that it has devastating effects.
As we shift towards solar-powered irrigation systems, let us maintain our water management practices. Let us stick to water-efficient irrigation methods whenever possible.
Final Thoughts on Solar Power Irrigation
Solar power irrigation has many benefits compared to its disadvantages. It is eco-friendly and cost-effective, apart from the initial cost. The advancement in technology will, hopefully, lower the prices of solar panels and related products.
There are solar panels and solar water pumps in the market for every requirement. You only need to buy what you need and enjoy free water for irrigation. Solar power irrigation helps you save on electricity bills and guarantee continuous crop production.
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