What Is Actually A Solar-Powered Irrigation System?
A solar-powered irrigation system is the answer to areas with no or unreliable access to water.
The different components of farming, from pump to plant, are integrated and harmonized.
From its title alone, it’s an automatic irrigation system running on solar energy through photovoltaic or solar cells that converts sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic.
Solar-powered pumps will automatically pump water from deep well with least to no human intervention because the system uses a moisture sensor that regulates the water flow upon detection of the level of moisture content of the soil required for a certain crop.
Over flooding will be avoided and this will conserve water.
This irrigation system is more favorable to farmers because it will lessen their tedious jobs in manually monitoring the moisture of their farms’ soil.
Copper wires are situated or inserted into the soil to measure the moisture.
When the sensor senses either low or high soil moisture, it will send data to the microcontroller.
Actually, SPIS is nothing new.
The first solar-powered irrigation system was installed in the late 1970s.
What Is Solar Power & How Does It Power The Irrigation System?
The simplest definition of solar power is the heat and light that come from the sun.
Remember your Science teacher taught you since day 1?
That our main source of energy is the sun.
That is the reason why it’s the most abundant and reliable source of renewable energy on this planet and it has a huge potential that it will supply most of our power needs soon when nonrenewable energies, like coal, petroleum, and natural gas, will run out.
One way to harness the sun’s energy is through solar panels.
Solar panels are a group of solar cells or photovoltaic cells.
These cells are made of negative and positive film of silicon which converts sunlight into electricity.
These cells are placed under a thin sheet of glass.
Solar panels must be set up facing directly to the sun for maximum sunlight conversion into electricity.
There are numerous ways to make the most of the solar power like in solar-powered blinds, exhaust ventilation and fans, nautical lights, floodlights, and its use in irrigating farms.
Solar-Powered Irrigation System For Agriculture
Solar power is a reliable source of energy not only for commercial and residential purposes but also for agricultural.
Agriculture provides a decent occupation to most countries of the world.
They produce food for every table.
That is why proper irrigation of the fields is necessary for various crop production.
This irrigation system is perfect for most parts of the world with distinct dry seasons and plenty of sunlight.
Solar-powered irrigation systems can utilize both underground water and open water sources like creeks, streams, and rivers.
But it’s more practical to suck water out from open water sources because it will use less energy compared to underground water extraction.
Currently, many regions and countries such as Europe, Asia, California, South Africa, America, among others, are investing in solar-powered irrigation systems.
Their government foresee and manage the potential of this alternative solution to economic problems.
Some financial institutions provide loans and subsidies, and significant public-private-partnerships for SPIS are continuously providing support for small-scale farmers.
The Operating System
The operating system of the Solar Powered Irrigation System is simple.
It’s the planning that makes it complex.
Solar panels will provide electricity for the motor pump which delivers water either directly into an irrigation canal or to an elevated reservoir that can be used for the drip method.
Important SPIS components
These are the important components when utilizing a solar-powered irrigation system:
The Solar Panels
Consist of solar or photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity.
Electric current flows through the wire that is connected to the back of the solar cell which provides the energy needed to operate the motor pump unit.
There are two (2) possible pump installation depending on the water source.
1. The surface pump uses a pipe that installed right next to the surface water source and suck water up that will pass through the other end of the pipe.
2. Submersible pump is installed or submerged under boreholes and deep wells with a depth ranging from 10-120 meters.
Submersible pumps can operate in automatic mode using control switches such as float switches.
Reservoir – a reservoir is optional but can be necessary to store water that pumped over the day and can be used in a drip irrigation system.
The Irrigation System
A. The drip method is simple and there is no water waste.
B. Sprinkler is the traditional way of irrigating.
How Much It Costs To Run A Solar Powered Irrigation System?
The cost depends on these factors:
- Price and number of KWP solar panels required to cater to the energy requirement
- Depth of the water source.
- Water discharge requirement or the type of soil.
- Type of motor pump needed (surface or submersible).
The cost of PV panels has dramatically decreased during the last decade and is estimated to have a more significant drop in prices in 2025.
Other components such as pumps and configurations have decreased as well.
Cost estimation for SPIS in mid-2017 for Small-scale complete system in Kenya with a submersible pump, 300 W panels on secured 3 m high stand with controller, filters and 1-acre drip irrigation, with planning, installation, and guarantees for the pump, panels and drip lines starts from USD 2,400.
What To Consider When Buying Solar Panels For The SPIS?
When choosing quality solar panels for your irrigation system you should consider the following criteria:
ISO certified panels indicate quality.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 series assures quality standards for the manufacturing industry.
Panels should meet the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC) 61215 reliability standard to be considered durable.
Solar panels are engineered to survive in extreme conditions like harsh winters and strong winds.
The cost of solar panels is equal to the price per watts plus installation and permits.
It’s not guaranteed and necessary that the most expensive panels are the best ones.
The average solar panel cost in 2019 is $2.99/watt.
Solar panels can convert sunlight into usable electricity.
The most efficient solar panels of 2019 is the SunPower X-Series Solar Panels with a record-breaking of 22.80%.
Higher efficiency rating is better because it means that more electricity is converted from the sunlight producing up to 75% more energy per square foot for over the first 25 years.
The top solar panel manufacturers by efficiency are SunPower, LG, REC Group, Panasonic, and Solartech Universal.
Since solar panels is a long-term and costly investment, it’s important to know that Solar panels have two (2) warranties:
Performance warranty– Solar panels degrade over time just like any other product.
The standard performance warranty of the industry is 25 years.
Performance warranty guarantees that the product will perform and produce electricity at a certain level of efficiency after a specific number of years.
Equipment warranty – It covers any physical defects or problems that will arise from manufacturing errors such as glass imperfections, damaged cell connections, loose junction boxes, among others.
A standard product warranty is about 10-12 years.
Some offer a 25-year warranty like SunPower, Solaria, LG, Panasonic, and Silfab
It’s better to consult or work with a solar energy consultant before buying and installing solar panels because they’re experts and they know better about this industry.
Top Solar Power Manufacturers To Consider For Solar-Powered Irrigation System
Here is the list of the top solar power manufacturers in the world. It is interesting to note that the best solar manufacturers are in East Asia.
Headquartered in Shanghai, China and is one of the largest and innovative solar module manufacturers in the international market for residential, commercial, and utility projects.
They have also bases in North America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and other regions.
Founded in 2005, its products such as silicon wafers, cells, and modules are available to over 120 countries and regions.
Its main office is in Beijing, China and has office locations in the United States, Germany, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and the Republic of Korea.
Founded by Jifan Gao and now one of the leading manufacturers of solar photovoltaic located in Jiangsu, China and with numerous branches in the US, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
LONGi supplies more than 30GW of high-efficiency solar wafers and modules worldwide yearly, about a quarter of global market demand and is recognized as the world’s most valuable solar technology company with the highest market value.
Its headquarter in Shaanxi, China and has global offices in America, Australia, Europe, and Japan.
In the past 18 years, Canadian Solar has delivered premium quality solar modules in over 160 countries worldwide.
Founded by Dr. Shawn Qu in Ontario, Canada and has business subsidiaries in 24 countries in 6 regions.
Its bulk manufacturing facilities are located in Canada and China and some are situated in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Brazil.
Advantages Of Using A Solar Powered Irrigation System
- Extremely low operating cost
Since solar power is absolutely free, farmers can save on expensive nonrenewable energy such as gas, diesel, and commercial grid.
- Clean and safe
SPIS is environment-friendly because it does not require fuels that emit harmful substances such as Carbon Dioxide that may contribute to further damage to the environment and noise pollution compared to traditional water pumps that use diesel and gas.
- Accessible and sustainable
Enough sunlight reaches the Earth that is why solar energy is totally renewable and accessible.
The life span of solar panels can be at least 25 years
Compared to conventional water pumps, the solar water pumps require very low maintenance that allowed farmers to save time because irrigation operations are no longer done manually.
- Alternative source of income
Farmers can sell surplus energy generated from the solar panels to the grid.
- Increase crop production
SPIS has the potential to provide higher yields than rain-fed agriculture most especially in areas with less to no rainfall.
- Increase property value
Studies have shown that properties with SPIS would increase the asset’s resale value and makes the property attractive to buyers.
Barriers For The Extensive Utilization Of Solar-Powered Irrigation System
- Relatively high initial investment cost
Solar power is FREE.
But unfortunately, because of the high manufacturing cost, the minimum earning farmers cannot afford to install panels for their irrigation system.
Moreover, finance is not accessible and affordable for all.
- Vulnerable to theft
Solar panels often stolen, just like in African countries and often not covered by insurance
- Unawareness that there is an alternative solution
Farmers, especially in far-flung areas, are unaware that there an alternative solution to irrigation problems such as the SPIS
- Knowledge and information gap
Farmers need to be trained because the operation and maintenance of SPIS require an optimal degree of technical knowledge and skill.
- Limited access to distributors and installation services
Distributors, extension services or private service suppliers are not available especially in rural areas
Well irrigated agricultural farm is the backbone of almost all local economic development, especially in developing countries.
And there are three important things in agriculture: soil, sun, and water.
Soil is replaceable by hydroponics.
Sun is replaceable by artificial light.
But there is no substitute for water.
Water irrigation is very important in case of a lack of rain.
There are some crucial factors to consider to attain a well-irrigated farm such as reliability, affordability, and access to irrigation water.
Farmers, especially in rural areas have no access to a reliable source of irrigation water.
And if there is access, they cannot afford it.
One promising solution to the problem, considering these factors, is the Solar-Powered Irrigation System.
Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS) is an automatic irrigation system where the irrigation pump is operated by electricity from the sunlight which is converted by solar panels or photovoltaic cells.
Installing an SPIS is an expensive initial investment but it’s actually a money-saver in the long run compared to traditional water pumps that use nonrenewable fossils like diesel and gas that contribute to further damage of the environment.
This technological option becomes recognizable due to a substantial decrease in panel prices and the cooperation of governments and technical extension services.
Solar-powered irrigation system has a certain significance not only in a nation’s economy but most especially to the environment.