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Solar irrigation project proceeds at snail’s pace

51The government’s initiative to change the mode of the country’s irrigation system, by replacing diesel- and electricity-based irrigation pumps with solar ones, is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Against the target of installing 1,500 solar irrigation pumps (SIPs) by 2016, only 280 pumps have been installed till now. These are lifting 360 million litres of water for cultivating 32,000 bighas of lands. Last year, the government adopted an ambitious plan to replace 5 lakh diesel-based irrigation pumps over the next five years by installing solar pumps across the country, which would save around 3 lakh metric tonnes of diesel per year.
The World Bank (WB) pledged to provide USD 78.4 million for the project.
To implement the plan, the ministry of power, energy and mineral resources had conducted a feasibility study in collaboration with the ministry of water resources and the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state-owned entity working to popularise the solar home systems (SHS) in the country.
According to the feasibility study, the initial plan was to replace 1,500 diesel-operated pumps with solar pumps, by installing 50 solar mini-grids across the country under a pilot project, by 2016. But stakeholders have expressed their concerns over the progress of the project.
Bangladesh Renewable Solar Energy Association (BSREA) president Dipal Chandra Barua said the implementation has been well below the target so far. More than 500 pumps should have been replaced by now, he said.
He, however, hoped that since the pumps are popular among the farmers, the numbers would gradually increase, and reach a figure of at least 1,000 by next year. “In the off-grid zones, where farmers used fuel oil, they are being encouraged to use solar pumps. Apart from irrigation, these pumps provide electricity for domestic use and can pump water round the year for at least three harvests.”
According to the data of the agriculture ministry, during the boro season, rice fields in Bangladesh are irrigated by 1.33 million different types of water pumps.
Of these, 87 per cent are diesel-operated, and require 800 million litres of diesel per year. A total of 1.33 million pumps is engaged in irrigation. Of these, 0.18 million pumps are electric pumps and 1.15 million diesel pumps.
A farmer has to pay Tk. 3,000 to Tk. 4,000 for each bigha of land as irrigation charges during a crop season for diesel- or electricity-operated pumps, whereas for solar irrigation pumps, it is Tk. 2,500 to Tk. 2,800, Barua added.
Talking to The Independent, Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) chairman Tapash Kumar Roy said, “The introduction of a solar power-based irrigation system would save 760 MW of power and 800 million litres of diesel every year if the conventional electricity- and diesel-run irrigation pumps are converted to solar power.”
“Installation of solar irrigation pumps takes time, since various strategic issues, such as locations and number of daylight hours, have to be considered. I think the solar irrigation pump project is on the right track. The targeted number of pumps will be installed within the timeframe,” said Roy.