An International Water Management Institute (IWMI) note on recent experiment on turning farmers into solar power producers even as using groundwater for irrigation:
From the land that gave India Amul, comes another innovation in sustainable enterprise that promises to double farmers’ incomes and incentivize them to become efficient energy and groundwater users by adopting clean energy.
Dhundi Saur Urja UtpadakSahkari Mandali in Gujarat is the world’s first solar pump irrigators’ cooperative. Registered in early February, 2016, the cooperative started with six farmers adopting solar irrigation pumps which had the unique capability to pool and inject their surplus solar power to the electricity grid and earn the farmers Rs. 4.63 for every unit sold.
To date, the solar pumps have generated close to 1 lakh kWh of green energy of which 43,897 were used for irrigation; the cooperative injected more than 52,000 kWh of green energy into the grid; generated nearly Rs. 4 lakhs of additional income from sale of surplus solar power; saved the government Rs. 2.0 lakhs in farm power subsidy; has expanded irrigation availability and access in the village by bringing down water prices to half; and contributed as much as 65 percent to the annual income of its members.
Taking all these benefits into account, the initial investment of a little over Rs. 50 lakhs, promises an Internal Rate of Return of 23 percent over its expected life of 20 years. The chart below shows the month-wise generation, use and evacuation of solar power by the cooperative and the income from sale of surplus power.
The Dhundi solar cooperative was created as part of a field research pilot implemented by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and funded by the CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) as part of their project on “Climate Smart Agriculture”. The project invested Rs. 46 lakhs while the farmers chipped in Rs. 4.65 lakhs to fund the installation of 56.4 kWp solar capacity and a micro-grid that enables them to pool their surplus solar power.
In May 2016, the cooperative signed a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement with the local electricity utility, Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Limited (MGVCL), to sell their surplus solar power. Despite some initial technical snags, the solar pumps and micro-grid have been performing admirably to deliver irrigation as well as offer an additional source of income for farmers.
The pioneering six member farmers, who had no prior experience with solar irrigation pumps, each contributed Rs. 5,000 per kWp, depending on the size of their installation. The farmers also pooled additional resources to get a dedicated 100 kVa transformer to facilitate smooth operation of the micro-grid. Inspired and motivated by their success, three new farmers have recently joined the cooperative and acquired new solar pumps. The new farmers have contributed five times as much, Rs. 25,000 per kWp each, towards the additional solar pumping capacity. The cooperative now has a total installed capacity of 71.4kWp.
Over the past 18 months, the Dhundi cooperative has attracted a lot of positive media and policy attention. Hundreds of farmers, researchers, officials, dignitaries and key policy makers in energy, irrigation, cooperatives, agriculture and rural development domain have visited Dhundi and interacted personally with the farmers.
The very next day after its formal registration, the Honorable Chief Minister of Gujarat felicitated and recognized the cooperative as a unique innovation worth replicating. The Government of Gujarat is currently working on a new solar policy which will facilitate the creation of Dhundi-like solar cooperatives all over the state.