No Rain? No Problem. How Fields Can Be Watered With Solar Power

SunCulture's solar powered pumps are making irrigation systems more affordable and sustainable for farmers in Kenya.

In regions of Kenya where there is little rain, help with irrigation now comes from an unlikely source - the sun. Using SunCulture's solar powered irrigation systems, farmers in Kenya are able to do away with traditional petrol powered pumps, improve their yields and make significant savings too.

Author Jasmina Schmidt:

Translation Jasmina Schmidt, 04.18.17

A large amount of Kenya’s gross domestic product comes from the agricultural sector, approximately 30 per cent, and the country has 5.4 million hectares of arable land. But yields are highly dependent on rainfall and access to water and often that means that many farmers are limited to harvesting only twice a year. And due to the arid climate, 80 per cent of the land is not suitable for rainfed agriculture – those crops that require regular rainfall.

The result of this? 80 per cent of farmland relies on irrigation systems – most of which are powered by petrol or electricity from fossil fuels. This solution doesn’t just have a negative impact on the environment, but means a huge expense for the farmers too – an estimated 250 USD per month per acre.

Tackling Water Shortages With Solar Powered Pumps

US-based startup SunCulture wants to solve the irrigation problem with a solar powered pump. Their system uses energy produced a solar panel to pump water from an existing source, e.g. a river or well, into a raised water tank. The water flows out of the tank via a valve, through a filtration system and reaches the plants via an irrigation drip tape.

This method doesn’t just cut back on energy, but labour and water too, because the water flows down thanks to the simple power of gravity, and the slow acting drip irrigation system means that practically no water is lost through evaporation. And farmers are able to farm without being dependent on rainfall, which significantly increases their productivity. To ensure the solar panels are safe from damage and theft, they’re installed on top of four metre high poles.

© SunCulture The water pump is powered by solar cells, and the water runs down from a raised tank and along irrigation drip tapes.

SunCulture’s work is currently mostly based in Kenya, but the organisation is planning to introduce their system to other African countries. They already have 1000 customers throughout East Africa, and claim that by spending less on petrol and electricity, each of those farmers is saving over 10,000 USD per year. Not to mention the benefits of increased production and decreased water usage.

Water is in a scarce resource in many parts of the world, and we here at RESET have compiled a list of the best ways that we’ve come up with for reducing your own personal water footprint. We’ve also reported on some of the best smart solar solutions too – like SteamaCo’s project bringing solar energy to rural areas of Kenya with the power of mobile phones. And ARED’s Smart Solar Kiosk project: solar powered mobile phone charging carts that are creating jobs in Rwanda.

For more information about SunCulture’s work and to meet the communities that are directly benefiting, check out the video below:

This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of an original article which appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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