Farm Factor

Key role of solar pumps in the irrigation sector

Solar pumps have emerged as a viable, non-polluting source of power for agricultural consumers. With the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) scheme, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has been actively encouraging the uptake of solar pumps among farmers. The adoption of solar pumps is expected to considerably reduce the financial stress on discoms as they will no longer have to disburse subsidised power to farmers.

As of November 30, 2020, the total number of solar pumps installed in the country stood at 268,275. Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan installed the highest numbers with 61,970 and 51,887 solar pumps respectively. Overall, nearly nineteen times more solar pumps were installed across the country during 2014-19 (over 250,000) as compared to the number installed up to 2014 (11,626).

Policy support

The central government has been working on policies and schemes to encourage the use of solar pumps. PM-KUSUM is the latest scheme to have been introduced by the government in this context. The implementation of the scheme was started in 2019-20, with a target to install 1.75 million stand-alone solar pumps by 2022. PM-KUSUM aims at ensuring reliable daytime power for irrigation, increasing farmers’ water security and freeing up the farm sector from diesel dependence.

PM-KUSUM

In July 2019, the MNRE issued the guidelines for the implementation of PM-KUSUM. It had three main components: Installation of 10,000 MW of decentralised ground-mounted grid-connected renewable power plants (Component A); installation of 1.75 million stand alone solar-powered agricultural pumps of individual capacity up to 7.5 horse-power (HP) (Component B); and solarisation of 1 million grid-connected solar-powered agricultural pumps of individual capacity up to 7.5 HP (Component C). The scheme envisaged adding a solar capacity of 25,750 MW by the year 2022.

With the aim of expanding the scope of the PM-KUSUM scheme, the MNRE issued an order in November 2020 to increase the installed solar capacity to 30.8 GW by 2022. Further, the revised financial support was reduced to Rs 340.35 billion from Rs 344.22 billion earlier. The components of the scheme were also revised. As per the amendments, besides barren, fallow and agricultural lands, solar power plants can now be installed on pasture land and marshy land of farmers under Component A. Under Component B, 2 million stand alone off-grid solar water pumps will be set up. Moreover, the MNRE will now retain 33 per cent of eligible service charges for nationwide information, education and communication activities. Meanwhile, Component C will involve the solarisation of the 1.5 million existing grid-connected agricultural pumps with individual capacity up to 7.5 HP.

In July 2020, amendments were made to the guidelines of Component C. As per the amendment, system integrators will be allowed to participate in the bidding process and the implementation agency will invite bids for the empanelment of vendors through a transparent bidding process. At present, solar pumps fulfilling the specifications mandated by the MNRE can be installed under the scheme. Further, to promote innovation in technology, the MNRE has decided to permit the installation of innovative stand alone solar pumps in pilot mode.

State initiatives

In July 2020, the Tamil Nadu government dropped the stipulation that farmers withdraw their applications for free power connections to get covered under the PM-KUSUM scheme. The decision was in line with the state’s intent to promote solar-powered pumps among farmers. For Tamil Nadu, the centre has set a target to install 17,000 stand-alone solar pumps and 20,000 grid-connected solar pumps by March 2022.

Over the past one year, several solar pump tenders have been issued by various state agencies. These include Central Electronics Limited’s tender for setting up 1,707 solar pumps in Jaipur and the Haryana Development Renewable Agency’s tender for 466 DC solar pumps under the PM-KUSUM scheme.

In another development, the Uttar Pradesh government has introduced the Pardarshi Kisan Seva Yojana. As part of the scheme, the government provides up to 70 per cent subsidy on solar pumps for irrigation purposes to farmers. Financial assistance for DC pumps with a capacity of up to 2 HP is fixed at Rs 50,820, while it is Rs 80,996 for pumps with a capacity of 2-5 HP. The government will give a subsidy of Rs 51,840 on AC pumps with a capacity of up to 2 HP and Rs 77,700 on AC pumps with a capacity of 2-5 HP.

Besides this, a number of state governments have launched schemes such as the Atal Solar Krishi Pump Yojana (Maharashtra), the Saur Sinchayee Yojana (Himachal Pradesh), the Surya Raitha scheme (Karnataka), and the Saur Pump Yojana (Bihar) for promoting the installation of solar pumps in the irrigation sector.

Innovative solar pumps

In line with the amendments, the MNRE issued guidelines for the installation of innovative stand alone solar pumps for demonstration purpose. The guidelines are applicable to all Indian innovators, manufacturers and service providers.

The ministry will invite expressions of interest (EoIs) from solar pump innovators from time to time. The guidelines state that the innovative products should promise better performance, improved efficiency and cost effectiveness. The products that are available for testing and field trials will be eligible under the scheme. In September 2020, the MNRE invited innovators, manufacturers and service providers to submit EoIs to participate in the government’s solar pump scheme. The element of innovation for improved performance was required to be mentioned by the applicants in their response to the EoI. Further, a cost-benefit analysis was required to be enclosed. Innovators scoring at least 75 per cent on the marking scheme would be shortlisted and invited to participate in the scheme. Applicants were also expected to submit an earnest money deposit of Rs 5,000.

An evaluation committee constituted by the MNRE will monitor and analyse the performance of the innovative solar pumps. Based on the recommendations of the committee, these pumps will be allowed to conduct field demonstrations. According to the guidelines, field tests will be performed to monitor the efficiency of the solar pumps in real time. These tests will continue during the first year of the installation. The innovator will be allowed to install up to 50 solar pumps in different parts of the state for demonstration purposes if the committee approves.

After detailed examination and deliberation, the evaluation committee may recommend the adoption of the innovative solar pumps.

Key challenges and the road ahead

The availability of solar water pumps has been a challenge in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The domestic solar industry is dependent on imports and as  much as 80 per cent of the demand for solar cells and modules is met by imports from China, which has witnessed a slowdown, in turn affecting the installation of solar pumps substantially. It has also been observed that there is lack of awareness among farmers, which results in low uptake of solar pumps.

Going forward, it is essential that state agencies and local authorities take the necessary measures to create awareness about the benefits of solar pumps through demonstration and pilot projects. Further, innovative financing schemes need to be developed by the government to encourage the uptake of solar pumps. While government subsidies are giving a push to solar pump deployment, it is imperative that solar pumps become cheaper in the long run to ease the financial pressure of installing, operating and maintaining them.

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