Equipment Trends

Emerging needs and innovations in the irrigation sector

Irrigation equipment constitutes a major portion of the Indian agricultural equipment market. Typically, equipment constitutes 12-15 per cent of the total cost of an irrigation project. According to India Infrastructure Research estimates, the current market size for irrigation equipment is approximately Rs 5,630 billion.

The irrigation equipment market can be broadly divided into three types – pumps, water meters and construction equipment.

Pumps

The agricultural segment is estimated to account for around 35 per cent of the pump market in India. According to reports, of the total 29.93 million agricultural irrigation pumps, 0.13 million (0.4 per cent) are solar powered, 8.8 million (29.4 per cent) are diesel powered and 21 million (70.1 per cent) operate on grid-connected electricity. Diesel irrigation pumps are typically required in remote areas where access to electricity networks is limited. However, the cost of operating diesel pumps is comparatively higher than electric pumps, with higher maintenance requirements.

Of late, solar pumps have emerged as a viable, non-polluting source of power for agricultural consumers. Due to the availability of relatively cheaper solar power to pump water for agricultural, domestic and other uses, the number of solar water pump manufacturers and suppliers have increased, resulting in competition on price, performance and quality. With water storage facilities wanting to avoid expensive batteries, solar photovoltaic pumps are becoming the preferred option over traditional pumps. The government, under its Kisan Urja Suraksha evem Utthan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) scheme, aims to install 1.75 million stand-alone solar pumps and solarise 1 million existing grid-connected agricultural pumps by 2022. The state governments have also launched schemes such as the Atal Solar Krishi Pump Yojana (Maharashtra), the Saur Sinchayee Yojana (Himachal Pradesh), Surya Raitha (Karnataka) and the Saur Pump Yojana (Bihar) to promote the installation of solar pumps in the irrigation sector.

In 2016, the central government launched the National Energy Efficient Agriculture Pumps Programme to replace the old energy-guzzling pumps with the new five-star-rated energy efficient ones. These pumps, fitted with smart control panels and SIM cards, provide farmers the flexibility to switch them on and off using their mobile phones. Replacing an estimated 20.27 million pump sets used in the agricultural sector with energy efficient sets is expected to result in savings of 46 billion kWh, as well as greenhouse gas emission reductions of 45 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has launched an initiative to accelerate the implementation of the Agriculture Demand Side Management Scheme in India. Under the pilot project, over 2,200 old and inefficient pumps are being replaced with BEE star-rated energy efficient pump sets.

In January 2021, EESL issued tenders for the deployment of 317,975 1-10 HP solar pumps across India under Component-B of KUSUM. It has also commissioned 1 MW of Goa’s first solar energy project.

Water meters

Another key equipment used in irrigation is thewater meter, which can be categorised into manual meters, automatic meter reading (AMR) meters and ultrasonic bulk flow meters. Manual meters require manual reading, done by personnel from the concerned utility. They are less costly and less complicated than other meters. However, they have higher chances of inaccuracy due to human error in recording the readings. AMR meters accurately measure and collect consumption data to generate a bill without manual interference and errors. They are based on ultra-low-power, long range LoRa WAN networks, which enable utilities such as Mahanagar Gas Limited to simultaneously monitor thousands of smart meters. Ultrasonic bulk flow meters use transit time ultrasonic technology for accuracy and ultra-reliable metering. They do not measure air, and hence the chances of errors in customer billing are negligible. The accuracy is very high, and there is no risk of leakages or pressure loss and thus no need for future maintenance. However, their measuring accuracy can be easily influenced by their installation and environment.

Construction equipment

Ancillary construction equipment used in irrigation include loaders, graders, vibratory rollers, crawler dozers, back hoes, hydraulic excavators, tippers and dumpers for earthwork; drill rigs, rock drills, drilling tools and crawler drills for drilling; and trailers, gantry cranes, tippers, tractors and tankers for transportation of haulage equipment.

Next steps

The market for irrigation equipment is set to expand with a number of upcoming and planned projects at the state and central levels. The segment will witness further advancements with innovative and cost-effective equipment being designed to enhance water productivity. Increasing agricultural activities, coupled with renewable energy-based water extraction for irrigation, is expected to drive the solar pump market. In addition, the high operating cost of diesel pumps and erratic electricity supply for electric pumps will lead to solar pump systems emerging as a better alternative in future. Further, innovations in technology and services focused on reducing the carbon footprint, such as solar-powered drip irrigation and floating solar systems, are anticipated to accelerate the growth of solar pumps.

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