Micro-Solar Utilities for Small-Scale Irrigation in Senegal

Earth Institute’s solution will enable a small group of farmers to use a central solar energy unit to power multiple AC pumps for irrigation. The proposed solution takes advantage of the benefits of solar without the high costs associated with DC-powered pumps and battery storage. This power will be accessed by farmers with prepaid electricity cards issued by a micro-utility, and sold through local vendors who will benefit from a small commission. Recognizing that a major obstacle to technology adoption is financing, a tariff-based financing model will allow customers to cover their appliance loans in small payments added into their micro-utility bills.

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The Earth Institute has installed three pilot solar PV pumping systems, which will serve seven farmers each (21 total) from a single, centralized array. Farmers on the first systemhave been paying for the service since early 2015 with high satisfaction. The next two pilot systems have been installed in Senegal and are awaiting pump installations. These latter two systems have solar tracking systems designed to optimize pump usage by increasing the time period during a day which the solar panels are collecting the maximum amount of energy (normal to the sun’s rays).

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PROBLEM/OPPORTUNITY

In Senegal, farmers currently use two practices for watering crops: the labor intensive method of flood irrigation with wells and buckets, or the cost- and energy-intensive method of using diesel-powered motor pumps. Neither of these options is ideal in a country with immense solar resources that can be harnessed and used to transform irrigation practices in the country and region.

CLEAN ENERGY SOLUTION

Earth Institute’s solution will enable a small group of farmers to use a central solar energy unit to power multiple AC pumps for irrigation. The proposed solution takes advantage of the benefits of solar without the high costs associated with DC-powered pumps and battery storage. This power will be accessed by farmers with prepaid electricity cards issued by a micro-utility, and sold through local vendors who will benefit from a small commission. Recognizing that a major obstacle to technology adoption is financing, a tariff-based financing model will allow customers to cover their appliance loans in small payments added into their micro-utility bills.

ORGANIZATION

The Earth Institute at Columbia University harnesses scientific research, education, and practical solutions to create a more sustainable world through innovation and critical thinking. Earth Institute has partnered with The MDG Center West and Central Africa (WCA)—an organization established to assist WCA countries develop and implement operational strategies aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

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This innovation will reduce the price of energy for irrigation significantly while reducing the carbon intensity of irrigation and the labor expended on it. These benefits are particularly powerful when looking at the demographics of Senegal’s agricultural workforce, which is more than 85 percent women.

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