Cutting power subsidies – by giving new pumps free!

Simply put, what is a 5-HP pump, on paper, actually draws electricity that a 6.7-HP motor would, consuming 5 units rather than 3.73 units per hour.

Written by Harish Damodaran | New Delhi | Published:January 21, 2016 1:33 am
A farmer waters his crops using a pump. (Express Photo) A farmer waters his crops using a pump. (Express Photo)

State governments and power distribution companies (Discoms) can save huge sums on electricity subsidies to farmers by simply replacing old inefficient pump-sets with new ones that consume less energy for watering fields.

A standard 5-horsepower (HP) electric motor pump-set shouldn’t — under ideal field conditions of three-phase supply at consistent 440V voltage — consume more than 3.73 kilowatt-hours of energy (one HP equals 0.746 kilowatts).

But most 5-HP pumps that farmers use today consume at least 5 units (kilowatt-hours) of electricity, going up to even 7-7.5 units. “The bulk of the 2.1-2.2 crore electric pump-sets presently energised in India are 10-years-old or more. Farmers rarely replace their pumps even after repeated motor burnouts. They, instead, choose to rewind these locally, often using poor-quality copper wires that lead to lower motor efficiency and increased energy consumption,” says Shashi Kant, senior manager (Technical) at Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), a joint venture of public sector undertakings under the Ministry of Power.

Simply put, what is a 5-HP pump, on paper, actually draws electricity that a 6.7-HP motor would, consuming 5 units rather than 3.73 units per hour.

The implications of this aren’t small for Discoms that, according to Power Finance Corporation data, sold 150.98 billion units to the farm sector in 2013-14. While agriculture accounted for 21.69 per cent of total electricity consumption, it generated just 8.03 per cent of the revenues of Discoms. The average revenue per unit of electricity from sale to agricultural consumers was only Rs 1.75, as against Rs 6.66 to industry.

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Farmers in many states are now charged on a fixed per-HP per month basis. At an average rate of Rs 300 per HP, the monthly electricity bill for a farmer with a 5-HP pump connection works out to a flat Rs 1,500, irrespective of how many units he actually consumes. But that also makes him less inclined to invest in an energy-efficient pump, while encouraging overdrawing of groundwater.

An old 5-HP pump that guzzles 5 units per hour and runs six hours daily for 300 days of the year will consume 9,000 units. If, however, replaced by a new star-rated pump of similar horsepower requiring only 3.73 units an hour, the annual consumption will drop by over 25 per cent to around 6,715 units. The annual savings from it, taking an average cost of supply of Rs 5/unit, comes to Rs 11,430. That is significant, when seen against the roughly Rs 35,000 cost for a new energy-efficient 5-HP pump-set.

“We have replaced nearly 2,000 pump-sets of farmers in Hubli and Mandya districts of Karnataka with new BEE (Bureau of Energy Efficiency) star-rated pumps. Our findings show the resultant energy savings to be anywhere from 25 to 35 per cent,” claims Shashi Kant. EESL is also implementing a similar project of replacing 2,500 pump-sets in Rajanagaram mandal of Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district.

The immediate beneficiary of replacing old energy-guzzling pumps would be the Discoms, to the extent their sale of power at below cost to farmers comes down by 25 per cent. The Discoms are, in fact, funding the replacement of pump-sets under EESL’s pilot scheme, as the payback on an investment of Rs 35,000 is not even 3.5 years.

But how does the farmer gain by replacing inefficient pump-sets, especially in a regime of flat-rate pricing for agricultural power that reduces the marginal cost of pumping water to near-zero?

“The farmer spends around Rs 3,000 every time his old overheated submersible pump is taken out from 100 feet below and put back after its burnt-out motor has been rewound. Here, not only are we giving the new pump free (since it is funded by the Discoms), but also not charging him for any repair and maintenance for five years,” explains Shashi Kant.

Saurabh Kumar, managing director of EESL, believes that state governments/Discoms should even consider supplying solar pumps against new connections free of cost. A 5-HP solar pump currently costs about Rs 4.5 lakh. But it also costs Rs 1.75 lakh or so to provide a new electric tube-well connection with the transformer, switchgear, cables and other fittings. The savings from this, and also not having to incur losses on future power sales, can pay for giving free solar pumps in over 6-7 years time.