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Nazmul Likhon
Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board has taken an initiative to sell 2,000 environment-friendly solar irrigation pumps to marginal farmers by 2020, at half the price of project cost, and in 10-year installments
According to a BREB official, the Asian Development Bank, Bangladesh government and BREB will finance the project titled ‘Solar Photovoltaic Pumping for Agricultural Irrigation’, which will be implemented at 10 Palli Bidyut Samities in Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bagura, Naogaon, Gopalganj, Faridpur, Madaripur, Cumilla and Feni districts.
The total project cost is taka 407.20 crore, of which, taka 367.62 crore will come from the ADB as grant and loan. The remaining taka 37.94 crore will be financed by government, and BREB will provide taka 1.63 crore. The project was approved by the ECNEC on May 29.
Project director Mohammad Sakil Ibne Sayeed told Bangladesh Post, the project will help to meet diverse energy demands, improve livelihoods because of less pollution, and result in savings from the reduction in diesel use for irrigation and other agricultural activities. It will also help the marginal poor farmer. ‘The entrepreneurs have to pay 49.45 percent of total project cost. Of this, 15 percent is down payment and rest amount on simple term loan at low interest which will have to paid in 10 years. After 10 years the farmer or entrepreneurs will be owner of the pump,’ he added.

Sakil also said, solar pump can provide continuous irrigation water for more than 20 years, and runs on sunlight. That is why there is no fuel cost. An entrepreneur will earn around taka 3,000 on 1 bigha a year under solar pump.

The BREB official said, the pump capacity will be 2.2KW to 11KW, which will irrigate 21.33 bighas to 106.66 bighas.

‘If an entrepreneur wants to install a 2.2KW solar pump, it will need around one ‘sathok’ of land for installation of the solar system, with an irrigation capacity of 21.33 bighas. The total value of the project is around taka 9.63 lakh. Of this, the entrepreneur will have to pay taka 4.76 lakh. Initially he has to pay taka 71 thousand as down payment. Rest of amount with operation and maintenance cost at taka 4.59 lakh will have to be paid in 10 years at installment of 46 thousand taka each year.

According to BREB, there are about 14 lakh diesel-operated and 3 lakh electric pumps in the country. An average of 10 lakh tonnes of diesel is used for irrigation every year, which is imported. Besides, additional demand of 1700 megawatts electricity is needed to run the electric powered pumps.

The government is giving subsidies of taka 75 to 80 crore on diesel for irrigation. Still, during the agricultural season, diesel deficiency is artificially created, which causes local price to go up. In the last two seasons, the PDB has to face difficulty in meeting this demand.

On the other hand, 310 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted annually due to diesel-powered pumps. The solar irrigation pump will save electricity and diesel costs in addition to protecting the environment.

Power division sources said, the government has taken several initiatives to reduce agricultural costs. Low cost fertilizers have played an important role in this regard. But still, the irrigation costs of farmers have increased considerably. At present 43 percent of the cost of agriculture is spent on irrigation. Solar Irrigation Pump will need less than one fourth the cost needed for diesel pump. Besides, it can also prevent soil and environmental damage. So, the initiative has been taken to increase the use of solar irrigation pump instead of diesel pump.

The solar pump is becoming increasingly popular for low-cost of irrigation. Solar Irrigation Pump is boosting the prospects of agriculture economy as well as environmental protection. Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) has initiated installation of 50,000 solar irrigation pumps in the next seven years.

According to sources, the government wants to increase the use of environment-friendly renewable power and replace about 17 lakh electric and diesel-operated pumps with alternate solar pumps.

As per a report by World Bank, solar irrigation pumps have improved the quality of life of farmers in Bangladesh, and they now have more time to concentrate on other productive purposes. With the extra money that the pumps have saved, many are buying other farming equipment, cattle and more.

An energy expert said, ‘as fossil fuel sources are depleting with time, we need to find more alternatives such as solar irrigation pumps to open new doors for our agriculture sector.’

Experts believe that with proper expertise, solar irrigation systems are able to deliver water to even the most difficult irrigation locations in Bangladesh. Solar-powered irrigation can replace diesel systems to enhance energy security, reduce local pollution, and mitigate climate change.