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10 barriers stopping solar powered irrigation at scale in Nepal

By Practical Action On 03.09.2021 EnergyFood & agriculture

The effects of climate change are serious. Water sources are depleting, causing water scarcity for irrigation as well as domestic use. 

10 barriers to scale up solar powered irrigation

1. Technological knowledge and understanding

In spite of the clear benefits of solar technology, local communities, local governments and stakeholders are often unaware of the technical “nitty-gritties” of installing it. Cost, availability of materials, and maintenance support are crucial to setting up a solar irrigation system. Limited knowledge on these aspects constrain the installation of such systems in rural areas. What’s more, lifting water from rivers and pumping underground water through solar energy seems an impossible idea to people residing in rural areas and miraculous when it happens.



2. Awareness about climate change and its impact on water resources

The effects of climate change are serious. Water sources are depleting, causing water scarcity for irrigation as well as domestic use. However, at local level people often don’t relate the drying of water sources to climate change.


3. Prioritisation

Understandably, communities and local governments prioritise constructing roads, trails, irrigation canals and drinking water supplies in their annual development plans. Solar technology lies far behind on the list. This leaves virtually no budget for installing new technologies like solar powered irrigation.




4. Lack of demonstrated business case

Generally, just a single use is considered when installing a solar powered irrigation system. However, establishing a demonstration model incorporating multiple uses such as irrigating crops, orchards and commercial farms. Also, linking farmers with private sector businesses is necessary to influence and convince local governments, cooperatives and communities for its uptake and replication.




5. Lack of easy availability of solar technology

Solar panels and other peripherals required for installing systems are not easily available in remote areas. They need to transported through the rugged terrain which increases the cost, making the installation more expensive – and more difficult to make a short-term business case for.




6. Lack of availability of skilled persons at local levels

Solar technicians are not available in remote areas as skilled people tend to migrate to cities looking for work. That means repairs are slow and costly. More technicians need to be trained. Until then, higher wages and associated travel costs to repair the system in rural areas means that costs are even higher than they should be.





7. Lack of awareness about financial support

The Government of Nepal provides subsidies for installing solar pumps to support climate-vulnerable people. However, communities, cooperatives and even local governments are not aware of this subsidy provision. As per Nepal’s renewable energy policy, farmers get 60 percent grant, paying 40 percent upfront. For women, the grant is greater – 70 percent instead of 60 percent, provided the ownership of land on which pumps are installed remains with women. I also hear regular reports that when they are applied for, it takes long time to process the subsidies.



8. Lack of business linkage and networking with service providers

The private sector’s engagement is a must for the viability and sustainability of any system. However, in remote areas, few companies and entrepreneurs prioritise solar irrigation systems due to perceived low return of investment. Most of the time, the system is used only for pumping drinking water and not linked to a viable business models such as providing water to irrigate orchards and commercial farms.







9. Lack of capacity among civil society organisations

Although local level organisations are interested in scaling up the technology seeing its benefits, they lack the technical, financial and management capacities. Co-operatives and micro-finance institutions need to step in order to play a crucial role in the technology’s expansion.






10. High instalment and maintenance costs

As the installation and maintenance costs are higher in rural areas due to lack of equipment and skilled technicians there is higher risk involved in investing in solar powered irrigation and therefore more difficult to get financial institutes to provide lending.









So, how can we overcome these barriers?

First, we must increase awareness of local governments, institutions and communities about benefits of this technology, subsidies offered by the government and showcase good practice to all stakeholders to encourage adoption of the technology.  

To do that, local authorities, local not-for-profit and private sector organisations and farmers need to be involved in the entire process – from demand identification to construction, supervision, monitoring, and preparation of water management plan.