Are solar-powered water pumps a better alternative to diesel?

By Savannah Rainey

Solar power is a hot topic right now. It seems like every week there is more information about the uses and benefits of solar power or new, innovative ways to harness and utilize it.

This week, green technology blog CleanTechnica reported on the use of solar-powered water pumps on small farms in underserved regions such as India and Africa and how they compare to the traditional diesel-powered pumps.  Spoiler alert: this is bad news for diesel.

SunEdison, a leading global solar company, has been working the past few years to implement these solar pumps, and they presented the benefits of them at the Eradication of Darkness summit in New York. Aside from the obvious perk of lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, solar-powered water pumps are also a boon to cost and efficiency.

Turning Sunshine Into Water Solar powered water pump -Photo courtesy of SunEdison

As CleanTechnica reports, “While solar energy is 'free' once the panels go up, diesel generators continue to suck resources out of the community in the form of expensive fuel payments and repairs.” These are communities that are already short on resources.  Pumps can last over 20 years, with a payback period of 2-3 years, resulting in 15+ years saving fuel costs.  Using these systems might not payback quite as quickly in the US, but they still appear to be the financially better option in the long run.  According to Paul Lawrence, founder of Texas Land and Water Design, “In the US, the payback period can take longer to realize, given the extensive utility infrastructure. However, depending on location, and distance from on-site utilities, installing solar can actually be more cost effective than traditional power sources."

Another issue with diesel pumps is that they tend to overdo it, pumping more water than is necessary and running longer than needed. This wastes both water and expensive fuel. SunEdison's pumps, on the other hand, utilize a “smart” control system that aims to operate closer to farmers' needs. As an added bonus, the solar panels can be used as a power source for other appliances when the pump is not in use.

To read more about SunEdison, the Eradication of Darkness summit, and solar-powered water pumps, check out the article here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on integrating Solar power at your farm.  Could it create real savings for your farm?