Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in India. Though agriculture’s share in the national GDP has more than halved from 30% in 1990-1991 to 14.5% in 2010-2011, about 52% of India’s total workforce is currently employed in the farm sector.

The agriculture sector in India is highly dependent on the seasonal monsoons and a reliable irrigation system. Irrigation cost, or the cost of the energy (electricity or diesel) to drive the water pumps, constitutes up to 30% of the total input cost for a farmer.

It is estimated that there are around 25 million irrigation pumps in India. Of these, around 8-10 million pumps are diesel-run, while the rest are electric pumps. The major challenges faced by the farmers include the frequent power outages, and the rising cost of diesel. Both these factors adversely affect the farm productivity, and there is a clear need for alternative options. One such option is solar water pumps.

A solar water pump system is essentially an electrical pump system in which the electricity is provided by one or several photovoltaic (PV) panels.
A typical solar powered pumping system consists of a solar panel array that powers an electric motor, which in turn powers a bore or surface pump. The water is often pumped from the ground or stream into a storage tank.

Solar pumps are useful where grid electricity is unavailable and alternative sources (in particular wind) do not provide sufficient energy.

Water pumps are specially designed to lift water for irrigation, horticulture farms, gardens, drinking and other similar applications.

Switching to solar water pumps not only helps the farmers overcome some of their major challenges, it also helps the government save around $6 billion a year in power and diesel subsidies.

In the Phase 2 of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), the MNRE has set a target for deployment of 25,000 pumps during the 5 years – 2012-2017. The solar water pumps come under the off-grid PV scheme of the JNNSM, and are provided up to 30% capital subsidy and soft loans at 5% interest rates.

Rajasthan has been a pioneer in promoting solar water pumps, and offers an additional subsidy of 56% over and above the MNRE subsidy, which means that the solar water pump owner gets 86% subsidy in total. In Tamil Nadu, a total of 80% subsidy is provided, whereas in Punjab, the total subsidy comes to about 70%.