ST. PETERS, Missouri- As access to food becomes an everyday struggle, a regular supply of both water and energy becomes necessary to ensure rural farmers around the world can both make a living and contribute to other’s food security. In India, crop efficiency has taken a toll as farmers have come to increasingly rely on diesel powered water pumps and diesel powered generators for electric pumps, costing the Indian government roughly $10 billion per year to subsidize energy costs for 22 million farmers.
As diesel costs remain high and access to the power grid is often shaky at best, agriculture production in India is highly inefficient. Solar pumps, as produced by company SunEdison, are now popping up in newly emerging economies such as India. Solar pumps, as opposed to diesel or electric pumps, have been predicted to increase agricultural income for farmers by 10% to 15%. With 70% of the population of India still living in the countryside, this could mean a substantial increase in income for those struggling with issues of drought, food security, and general poverty.
According to the Indian government, poverty rates in the countryside are around 25% and have declined at an approximate rate of 2% per year. However, there has been strong criticism of these numbers and the method used to calculate poverty. For example, the World Bank places the poverty line at less than $1.25 spent per day, while the Indian government has used a price cutoff of 45 cents for rural areas. Critics have also accused the government of not accounting for inflation rates and abridging the calorie requirement to 300 kilo-calories lower than previous standards.
As India’s industrialization has boomed in the last decade, increased pressure has been put on the country’s energy resources and water supplies. Large dam projects have been in the works since the early 1960’s, constructed to help irrigate lands in areas with less water as well as provide drinking water to those in urban areas. But with over 16 billion spent on nearly 4,000 dams, only about 10% of India’s food grain production is irrigated by the dams. Drought years have intensified the effects of water scarcity for farmers, making the need for efficient, high yielding pumps even more essential.
According to SunEdison, its solar powered pump is 45% efficient in comparison to Indian made electric or diesel pumps with an efficiency rate of 20%. Because the Indian government contracts pump production to companies who provide the lowest price, rather than the greatest results, the country pays a high bill for little payoff.
However, the switch to solar pumps won’t necessarily save India much money. One solar pump costs around $7,000 to $9,000. Though energy subsidies will be severely cut, a typical diesel or electric pump currently costs only $500. Diesel and electric pumps have their added costs as well. According to one farmer, “For a farmer who owns one bigha of land [about 70% of an acre], the diesel pump has to be run four hours a day. The pump consumes two liters of diesel an hour. That is 320 rupees [U.S. $5.55] per hour.”
Electric pumps cost less, but are often unreliable. Though the government subsidizes electricity, allowing many farmers access to the grid at little or no cost, farmers usually get no more than four hours of electricity per day. Rolling blackouts and interruptions are common, and electricity is regularly delivered at night. According to SunEdison’s Managing Director for South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, Pashupathy Shankar Gopalan, thousands of farmers who go out into their fields to work in the dark have been bitten by snakes and died.”
With a steep initial investment, government support is essential to promoting the solar industry in India to offset startup costs. The country has huge potential to boost the agricultural industry through clean technology, as well as decrease poverty rates without using lower benchmarks heavily criticized by the international community.
– Jamison Crowell
Sources: Solaredge, Info Change India, Smithsonian, The Times of India, Business Today
Photo: Engineering for Change