Success on Solar Irrigation System in Bangladesh yet to achieve -By Zulker Naeen

Article, Economy, National

In the last few years, farmers are moving to the solar-based irrigation pumps in different parts of Bangladesh, since the cost of diesel pump is higher compared to the solar pump. Few more aspects could be brought to light regarding this innovative irrigation system.

Over the period, technology has been changed dramatically in the irrigation scheme of Bangladesh. But this innovative irrigation system is executed not only for the matter of costs to purchase diesel fuel, but solar-powered pumps are a realistic choice in the context of sustainable agricultural practices, as it is a global demand for renewable energy technology.

A new way of lifting groundwater using solar energy, regular peak irrigation, an effort by public-private partnerships, and least requirements of diesel imports have opened up a new door in the agriculture sector of Bangladesh as farmers can boost their farming yields through irrigation round the year.


The use of solar energy in irrigation is popular now owing to cost-effective financing and innovative business model. In a bid to promote alternative energy, perhaps, Bangladesh has speeded up installing solar-powered irrigation pumps in 2012. However, it started first in 2010 and the implementing agency, Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a non-bank financial institution, bankrolls renewable energy projects in Bangladesh.

However, farmers usually use irrigation pumps to supply adequate water for their crops where the fuel-based traditional irrigation system is still popular with most of the farmers in the country’s agriculture.  During the peak season of irrigation, about 20% of our total produced electricity is used by the farmers. As a result, there is a short supply of electricity in many areas of the country, especially at the time of irrigation period.

Earlier, rely on expensive diesel irrigation pumps consume 1 million tons of diesel worth $900 million every year. Farmers are often dependent on middle-men during peak irrigation and cropping season.  But, the success stories on solar irrigation pumps have brought up light from the piloted Upazilas of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Khulna regions.

Farmers in those pilot areas have been switching from diesel-run to solar irrigation pumps, which are more reliable and easier to maintain compared to their diesel counterparts, also reduces government’s fuel subsidy for the agriculture sector as well as diesel imports. And given Bangladesh’s fragmented land ownership, a group of 20-25 farmers can associate to buy water from one irrigation pump.

In this development, Power Division aims to replace about 150,000 diesel and conventional electricity-run irrigation pumps with solar-powered ones by 2017. As a part of Bangladesh’s readiness, the World Bank is supporting the government’s effort to install 1,250 solar-powered irrigation pumps by 2018. The low-cost technology is well suited for the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunshine.   Even better, the country will be able to reduce 5,000 tons of carbon emissions per year once all the 1250 pumps are in operation.

In addition to the World Bank, the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF), Global Partnership on Output Based Aid (GPOBA) and U.S Agency for International Aid (USAID) has provided financing for the solar irrigation pumps.

Already, over 600 solar irrigation pumps have been installed by IDCOL and more to come to cut dependency on electricity and diesel used to operate more than 1.6 million tube wells and pumps for irrigation. It plans to set up more than 1500 pumps within 2018.

“Solar-driven irrigation models are usually run by experts and as a result, use of water for producing per kg of paddy is relatively lesser than other irrigation systems,” said Siddique Zobair, member of Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA).

According to the official data, Bangladesh’s installed capacity of power generation is around 15,594 MW now and the projected power demand will hit 34,000 MW by 2030. However, the current contribution of renewable energy is around 1.5 percent of total power generation. “The government has a target of producing 10 percent electricity from renewable energy by 2020,” Siddique said.

In this backdrop, the government has proposed import duty on solar panels in the budget for the recent fiscal 2017-2018. Imports of solar panel, the main component of a solar power system are subjected to 10 percent customs duty, VAT and other taxes, totaling an additional cost of 37.5 percent in the next fiscal year, whereas the sector has been enjoying zero duty.

The country’s solar energy initiatives have to face a setback because of this imposition of a duty on imports of solar panels, as it will be difficult to make solar irrigation projects viable even after the government bears 50 percent of the installation cost.  It causes a homogeneous catalyst to the solar revolution in irrigation to attain the 10 percent renewable energy generation goal by 2020.

If we consider for our long-term benefits with the electricity demand and supply, switching to the solar-based power pumps should give priority to building a sustainable agricultural practice in Bangladesh.

On the other hand, the burden of government’s ability to produce electricity will be decreased, and consequently, the overall cost of fuel based electricity production and pollution will be reduced gradually.

Physical degradation like loss or unproductive of the land body, water body, and biodiversity will not be encouraged if we continue to use our sunshine as the source of our energy in all the development sectors of Bangladesh.  However, these are the overall major dimensions of achieving sustainability goals through the solar-based irrigation system in Bangladesh.

As part of sustainable agricultural development, the solar-run irrigation system has a high potential value in terms of previous sustainability benefits. In this development, the opportunity for solar power conversion into energy promotes the access of farmers to continuous energy supply which is significantly needed for an agricultural drive.

Writer: Zulker Naeen is a Climate Tracker Fellow based in South Asia. He is also a communication graduate of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), currently working as a market researcher of lubricants oil sector in Bangladesh.

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