India’s huge solar water pump plan highlights how solar could leapfrog the grid

The Indian government is looking to deliver one of the most ambitious projects involving solar-powered water pumps in the world. According to Bloomberg, the Indian government is looking to exchange 26 million ground water pumps, which now mostly run on grid electricity or diesel, with more efficient and solar-powered water pumps.
The country will spend $1.6 billion over five years on getting just the first 200,000 deployed, according to the article. Farmers will get the subsidies, and in exchange will also get water-saving systems so that try to help them not use more water than they did with the grid and diesel-connected pumps. Take these project numbers with a grain of salt, as the Indian government has a long history of make these types of goals more aspirational than concrete and viable.
India water pump
India’s power grid infrastructure has long been neglected, and as the population grows — and the middle class grows as well — the lack of a stable central grid system will become an increasing problem. In the Summer of 2012 the country suffered one of the most massive blackouts in the world.
But India’s solar-powered water pump project also shows the vast potential for how the country could use distributed solar panels as a way to leapfrog a centralized and expensive power grid system. A similar thing happened with cell phones in India, where they’ve become the dominant form of communication because they’re a much more convenient and less expensive type of technology to deploy than telephone landlines or non-wireless broadband. Distributed, wireless systems just tend to be more low cost and efficient than a network of physical pipes.
India solar off grid
The distributed solar industry in India is also taking a cue from cell phones in a more direct way, too. Some companies are now using cell phones, text messaging and carriers to sell solar power like cell phone minutes are sold. Two of these companies are Azuri, and Simpa Networks.
cell phone water pumpAs more devices become connected to networks and the Internet — here comes the Internet of Things — more and more of them will seek to have their own power source, and currently solar power is one of the cheapest and most mobile forms of distributed energy available. Even Apple has looked into putting a solar panel on its gadgets to try to extend battery life.
Some water pumps in India are getting controlled and managed by cell phones. A company called RealTech Systems has developed an irrigation control system for farmers that uses cell phone networks and missed calls to control water usage.
But most water pumps don’t need a data connection to operate — but they do need power. Companies that are looking to finance and sell the solar-powered water pumps include SunEdison, Jain Irrigation Systems, Claro Energy and the solar division of Indian conglomerate the Tata Group.
If India does reach these numbers of solar-powered water pumps, it would be the largest deployment of this technology in a single country. Reducing the grid electricity usage, and the use of expensive diesel, will not only lower carbon emissions, but it could also help the power grid operators better run their networks and reduce the power costs for the farmers.