Govt shifting gears from diesel to solar

Reaz Ahmed
Published : 09:51, Sep 20, 2019 | Updated : 10:10, Sep 20, 2019

Fossil fuel finite in Bangladesh; South Asian hydropower platform crucialFarmers in Bangladesh burn one million tons of diesel to irrigate 3.4 million hectares of cropland each year.

The country has to foot a staggering $1.2 billion import bill a year to feed fuel to 1.34 million diesel pumps that farmers use for watering the croplands.

Then there is a continued need to subsidize diesel cost. It also leads to increased groundwater depletion and causes soil and groundwater contamination due to diesel spills.

Installing solar photovoltaic (SPV) pump systems can help Bangladesh overcome these challenges, and the government has decided to replace diesel pumps with the solar powered ones.  

Nearly 1,400 SPV pumps installed in Bangladesh over the past six years have shown that costs of irrigation are lower than those incurred when using diesel pumps and the farmers have adapted these new technologies.

In recognition of these benefits, the government has drawn up a 15-year roadmap to scale up the use of solar pumps for a sustainable agriculture development in Bangladesh.

The roadmap targets replacing 425,000 diesel pumps with solar pumps, which will help reduce diesel consumption by 400,000 tons a year or save the government $480 million in fuel costs at the current prices.

It will also result in subsidy savings of $96 million a year for diesel fuel and help reduce carbon emission.

The roadmap discusses all technical and economic aspects for the scale-up of SPV pumps in irrigation and proposes a roll-out action plan together with recommendations for creating a government SPV pump fund that can be financed with savings in diesel subsidies when diesel pumps are replaced by SPV pumps.

The cumulative savings in diesel subsidies over the 15 years is estimated to be around $800 million.

The roadmap also presents recommendations for policy changes and institutional arrangements that can help transition to cleaner solar energy in irrigation.

The roadmap has identified a potential of 637GWh/year at the end of the 15-year period that could be connected to grid, translating to about $30 million/year reduction of other fossil fuel generation.

GWh, abbreviation of Gigawatt hours, is a unit of energy representing one billion watt hours and is equivalent to one million kilowatt hours.

Over the 15-year roadmap, the cumulative excess electricity to be generated is estimated at 5,250GWh, valued at $250 million. Appropriate policies and regulation, if enacted, could enable the excess electricity to be connected to the national grid, benefiting farmers from the sale of electricity.

Speaking at a workshop arranged yesterday for validation of the roadmap, Manmohan Parkash, country director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Bangladesh, said: “An additional benefit of solar pumps is that excess renewable electricity produced by solar panels, when the pumps are idle, can be made available to the grid.”

Bangladesh received $42.4 million ADB funding, almost half of the amount as a grant, to support the efforts in mainstreaming solar pumps and replacing diesel pumps. 

Officials told the reporter that solar pumps have many benefits for irrigation: solar pump systems are of larger sizes than small diesel pumps, potentially capable of serving a group of 30 to 60 farmers allowing for efficient groundwater management, and help plan and irrigate crops with the right amount of water, at the right time to maximize crop yields.

Solar PV pump systems do not pollute water and soil, unlike diesel pumps.

The first solar irrigation pump systems were installed in Bangladesh in 2012. Since then, Bangladesh has witnessed the installation of 1,372 solar pumps so far, according to the Sustainable & Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) of the Power Division under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources.

According to the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), up until July this year, it has approved 1,473 solar irrigation pumps in the country. IDCOL, a government-established non-bank financial institution, is involved in bridging the financing gap for developing medium to large-scale infrastructure and renewable energy projects in Bangladesh.