All South African sectors are well acquainted with the crippling effects of rising electricity costs, loadshedding and power outages. And even though the South African agricultural sector only uses a small percentage of the country’s energy supply, it could be a major role player in saving and generating renewable energy. This sector is also an important contributor to the country’s economy and currently employs 842 000 people in South Africa.1 It’s believed that if more land is under irrigation, it should improve employment and have a positive effect on the larger value chain.
Despite recent droughts and the lack of rural development, solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) offer new and growing opportunities to the agricultural sector. SPIS can bring both commercial and subsistence farmers the opportunity to be independent of the state supplied energy grid, lower operating costs and the opportunity to expand. Access to irrigation improves quality and yield, provides protection against short term drought and as a result, it gives farmers the financial means to grow their business.
Why solar power?
Solar power is only one of many renewable energy sources. Going forward, renewable energy and ways to make it more accessible and affordable will be one of our society’s biggest tasks. Renewable energy is any sustainable and natural resource, such as sun, wind or water, that allows us to create energy with as little as possible carbon emission for as long as possible.
The best renewable energy solution is the one that’s the most consistent and reliable, which in South Africa is the sun and therefore solar power.
How does an SPIS work?
A very simplified explanation is as follows: The solar panels absorb the sunlight and convert it into electricity. This is then fed to a generator that supplies the necessary electricity to a motor which powers a water pump in the irrigation system.
Would you like to expand the process?
Are there any specific SPIS you would like to highlight?
Should I install an SPIS?
A solar-powered irrigation system is best used in these scenarios:
- In rural areas where farmers have no access to the formal power grid but access to a sustainable water source, the SPIS can be set up to aid small farmers and co-operatives.
- To replace diesel motors as a long-term financially viable and low carbon emission option to farmers.
- Commercial producers who require an uninterrupted supply of electricity to maintain quality and yield.
- Commercial producers that require more affordable energy sources for sustainable farming.
By how much will SPIS lower your electricity bill with a drip irrigation system?
Do you need to reconfigurate the whole irrigation system if you want to install solar power?
What are the advantages of an SPIS?
Once your solar-powered irrigation system is installed and running, you’ll have unlimited access to a free energy source and your only expense, once the system is fully paid off, will be maintenance costs. It’s important to see your SPIS as a long-term investment that will increase the yield and the quality of your products.
We’ve found that an SPIS is best paired with drip irrigation systems as they require less power to operate. The soil, crop, water quality and weather conditions must be fully assessed and configurated by a trained and experienced irrigation specialist, before installing the SPIS with drip irrigation, as this will determine how many solar panels are needed for sustained irrigation.
What are the drawbacks of an SPIS?
The initial setup cost of an SPIS is the biggest problem encountered worldwide, even though it generates free and clean energy once the system is paid off. This is why many rural areas still favour diesel engines despite fuel being costly and bad for the environment. This may also deter small and commercial farmers that don’t necessarily have access to financing that supports green energy solutions.
Aside from theft and vandalism of solar panels also being a problem in many parts of South Africa, installing an SPIS requires in-depth knowledge and experience. Incorrect sizing of the pump and over- or under-sizing the solar panels could lead to an inefficient system.
In rural areas, education is needed around the responsible use of the water source as there is no financial incentive to use water wisely. If it’s inadequately managed and regulated it may lead to exploitation and water wastage.
How can Bekmar Irrigation assist with the installation of SPIS?