Use of Renewable Energy in Irrigation

Published:  01:23 AM, 06 November 2019

A new arena in Bangladesh

A new arena in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a hugely populated country in South Asia. The country produces its electricity mainly from natural gas followed by liquid fuels.

Although the installed electricity generation capacity of the country has been increased to 12,261 MW, there is scarcity of electricity in the hot summer season which is a barrier to industrial development as well as socio-economic development. Combustion of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere which causes global warming.

Bangladesh can be badly affected by greenhouse effect and global warming. These problems can be mitigated by incorporating renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, wind, hydro, biomass, etc.) to the country's electricity generation. Renewable energy resources are considered as clean and can serve the electricity demand in the remote areas where grid connection is not possible.

The potential of solar energy and biomass is enormous in Bangladesh and people have already started to harness energy from these sources. The government and the policy makers should come forward to encourage the people of rural areas as well as urban areas to use renewable based electricity.

The government of Bangladesh has set up a plan to generate 5% of the country's total electricity from renewable sources within 2015 and 10% within 2020. However, within 2015 the country has been able to generate only 3.5% of the total electricity from renewable sources .

Background: The demand for food in the country is increasing simultaneously with the increase in population. So, there is no alternative other than increasing crop production to meet in incremental food requirement. In order to sustain the success in increasing agricultural production, ensuring irrigation facilities is treated to be as one of the main considerations.

But with the passage of time the availability of surface water has been decreasing while groundwater table is gradually depleting. In addition, the price of electricity and fuel is gradually going beyond the reach of the farmers. So, there is no alternative to ensuring proper and adequate use of valuable water resources to sustain increase in agricultural production. 

In this consideration the use of required but minimal quantity of water is essential for agricultural production. Similarly, reducing the conveyance loss in irrigation canals also needs urgent consideration. Some improved irrigation technology (drip, buried pipe irrigation) will play noteworthy role and side by side will play important role in reducing the cost of production of crops.  Acquainting the farmers with the use of renewable energy (sun light) for irrigation will play an important role in the economy of the country by saving electricity and fuel oil. 

Rational: The water crisis has drawn worldwide attention to the urgency of achieving a more efficient use of water resources, particularly in agriculture, to increase crop production and achieve world food security. Considering that a major share of the water resources is used in agriculture and that food requirements are increasing while water resources are limited, irrigated agriculture and the role of efficient irrigation systems and techniques have recently assumed greater importance in increasing food production. In dry season, irrigation is heavily dependent on groundwater.

As a consequence of extensive use of groundwater, depletion of water-table has created alarming situation at several places of the country. Seasonal depletion of water table is experienced almost in several places and groundwater table is beyond suction limit and the effect is gradually spreading. Depletion of groundwater table is requiring more power to pump out water in addition to other environmental problems, such as contamination of arsenic and other mineral.

Considering the issue, this project has been designed to use surface water using renewable energy. Presently, the pumps used for running irrigation equipment use fossil fuel or power from electrical grids which in turn use fossil fuel. Burning fossil fuel is universally recognized as harmful for environment. It increases CO2 content in the atmosphere enhancing detrimental effects of climate change. It is understood that as more water is lifted by whatever sources, the more power is consumed. Thus, economic use of water is contemplated all over the country.

The use of electricity for lifting irrigation water reduces cost of irrigation. Grid power is cheaper than diesel power but these may not be easily taken to all parts of the country. Solar power will play an important role in the economy of the country by saving electricity and fuel oil.

In recent time, efficiency of Solar panels has increased and now conversion of 20-22% of solar light to electricity is common. Similarly, adaption of improved water saving technologies such as water distribution through buried pipedrip irrigation and AWD will save irrigation costs by saving water distribution loss in the country and may contribute to make irrigated crop production cost-effective.

Similarly, the conveyance loss in irrigation canals also needs urgent consideration. Buried pipe irrigation is playing noteworthy role in efficient use of water. These are playing important role in reducing the cost of production of crops and in the economy of the country.

Demand of the time is to make water available and efficient irrigation technology at the door step of the farmers, who produce food for the country. Improved water management technologies,, reduction of pumping cost and cultivation of low water consuming crops especially vegetables are necessary for cost effective irrigated agriculture and improving livelihood of farmers. Use of solar energy which is also called renewable energy has been prioritized in the project.

With this consideration, the Department of Agricultural Extension which has staff up to union level has taken initiative of expanding use of solar energy over the country. Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) is the largest agricultural extension service providing government organization.

This organization provides support to all types of farmers in the country. Most of the farmers in Bangladesh have been carrying out irrigation farming using traditional ideas and concepts.

As a result high cost of production is incurred while groundwater as well as a valuable natural resource is being wasted due to lack of using proper irrigation saving technologies. So making available water efficient irrigation technology at the door step of the farmers is the demand of present time.

Similarly, it is essential that the farmers to be introduced about the technology using renewable energy (solar energy) and to be encouraged of using renewable energy (solar energy). Besides, according to the strategy of Seventh Five Year Plan services are to be rendered to the farmers. It is feasible to extend the services to the door steps of the farmers as there are extension workers of Agricultural Extension Department up to union level.      

Project Development Objectives:

The overall objectives of the project are to improve the livelihood situation of the small & marginal farmers by reducing the production cost through expansion of energy and irrigation water saving technologiesin the project area. The objectives include:

1. Saving 95 -100% of fuel or electricity cost by using solar energy for irrigation purpose. 2. Enhancement of irrigation efficiency through modern water saving technologies. 3. Increasing availability of irrigation water  by minimal use of surface water  4. Maintenance of ecological balance and reduction of cost of irrigation by encouraging use of surface water in place of groundwater. 5. Increasing knowledge of farmers and creating awareness on  6. Improving the quality of livelihood of rural population by increasing crop production through integrated irrigation management.

Project Area: With a view to implement and attaining the project objectives, 100 upazilas of 41 districts from 7 divisions have been included based on information provided by Upazila Agricultural Officers about availability of surface water for year-round use for irrigation.

Beneficiary Population: At least 27,500 farm families will receive demonstration and 50,000 neighbour farm families will be benefitted directly. Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) will trained up 1,42,400 farmers under this project.

Project Components: The project has, in addition to solar powered irrigation, three other types of intervention. Each component endeavors to make irrigation available over entire suitable irrigable lands. It also considers use of groundwater by using tube-wells and using dug wells in aquifer constrained area. In short, project components are described below: 

Solar powered Irrigation Units: Solar powered irrigation units will be run by solar power generated Solar Panels. Solar panels are devices, which are used to absorb Sun Rays and convert them into electricity.

A solar panel is actually collection of solar (or photovoltaic) cells, which can be used to generate electricity through photovoltaic effect. These cells are arranged in a grid-like pattern on the surface of solar panels. Most solar panels are made of crystalline silicon solar cells. Solar panels do not lead to any form of pollution and are clean.

These also decrease our reliance on fossil fuels (which are limited) and traditional power sources. This is becoming a very popular development and GOB planned to cover 20% of energy requirement by 2021 from solar energy. Demonstration of solar power operated irrigation equipment will be in 100 schemes in 100 upazilas during project implementation.

Expansion of buried pipe irrigation: In irrigated area, water is conveyed from the water source to the cropped field using networks of buried pipe lines. Buried pipe lines have several advantages over open channels.

A properly designed pipeline system saves water, energy consumption and land used for field channels. Buried pipe is not an irrigation system, rather it is a water distribution system, where underground pipe lines are used for reducing conveyance loss of irrigation water.

Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) has installed 13044 km of buried pipe in barind area for distributing irrigation water even from low land to high land. Buried pipe has advantages over lined and unlined canal system and it saves 33 decimal of agricultural land in a tube well area which was required for earthen or lined channels.

BMDA is using cement concrete (CC) and unplasticized polyvinyl chloride uPVC pipes for buried pipe (BMDA 2018, Command Area Extension and Development project). Water distribution loss is almost zero in buried system, whereas for unlined surface canal extent of water distribution loss is about 40%. For 2 cusec DTW, requirement of canal is 2000 feet. 

Introduction of Drip Irrigation: Drip irrigation is a type of micro-irrigation that has the potential to save water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants. Water supply may be either from above the soil surface or buried pipe below the surface.

The goal is to place water directly into the root zone and minimize evaporation loss. Drip irrigation systems distribute water through a network of valves, pipes, tubing and emitters. Depending on how well designed, installed, maintained, and operated, a drip irrigation system can be more efficient than other types of irrigation systems, such as surface irrigation or sprinkler irrigation.

However, number of drip irrigation in use in the project area is negligible.DPP of the project included demonstration of 400 schemes during project implementation, which will be significant investment for supporting drip irrigation in the project area and will gain confidence of farmers for using drip irrigation for saving distribution loss of irrigation water.

Project Benefit: The present project is expected to save 95 -100% of fuel or electricity cost by using solar energy  in place of existing practices for irrigation purpose. The project also targets to enhance irrigation efficiency adopting improved water management technology such as buried pipe, drip irrigation and AWD.

The beneficiary farmers will be able to improve their livelihood as the production cost will be reduced. The project also intends to increase knowledge of farmers through conducting training programs to create awareness on water use, use of solar energy for operating irrigation pumps and increasing crop production through conjunctive use of water.

Md. Rubaiyat-ur-Rahman is Project- Director, Enhancing Crop Production through Extension of Solar Energy & Modern Water Saving Technologies (Pilot) Project. Email:pdsolardae@gmail.com

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