Pravin Parmar, 29, has always used a diesel pump to irrigate his five-bigha patch of land in Dhundi village in Kheda district, Gujarat. The Rs 750 he would pay for using 15 litres of diesel a day to irrigate his farm ensured that he never earned much — just about Rs 10,000 a month — from his crop of tomato and brinjal.
Next year, as early as January or February, however, Parmar is hopeful of supplementing his monthly income by at least Rs 3,000-Rs 4,500, not through agriculture but through power generation.
Parmar has dumped his diesel pump and installed a solar-powered pump to irrigate his fields. Despite his meagre income, he spent Rs 54,000 last month to get the 7.7 horsepower solar panel, which cost Rs 6.5 lakh, fitted in his field. The rest of the cost was borne by Colombo-based non-profit scientific research organisation, International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
In a month’s time, his solar pump is slated to get connected to the power grid of the state discom, Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (MGVCL). When his solar pump is not irrigating the fields, it will supply power to the discom, helping him earn Rs 150-Rs 100 a day.
It’s a power generation model Parmar and five other small vegetable farmers — all holding between one to five bighas of land — in Dhundi have adopted to supplement their incomes. The six have come together to form a solar power cooperative, the Dhundi Solar Ujra Udpadak Sahkari Mandali. Each has made a one-time investment — Rs 40,000 to Rs 54,000 — to purchase either a 5 horsepower pump (Rs 4 lakh) or a 7.7 horsepower pump (Rs 6.5 lakh),
the rest of the amount being paid by IWMI.
“At present, we are using the solar pumps only for a few hours to irrigate our fields. But after a month, we will sell power generated by the pumps to the state grid,” says Parmar.
Laxman Parmar, 52, who grows wheat and a local vegetable called mogri, is the cooperative chairman. “We are small farmers and do not know if the project will succeed. But we took the risk as we believe in the cooperative model,” he says.
Still, it took five months for IWMI to convince the farmers to form a solar power cooperative. At a presentation held in June, over 40 farmers from Dhundi were told the story of Raman Parmar, a banana-growing farmer in neighbouring Anand district, who was roped in by IWMI to experiment the income generation model. In the four months since Raman Parmar’s solar-powered irrigation pump was connected to the MGVCL, he has earned Rs 7,500 for supplying 1,500 units of surplus power.
While a rise in income was offered as the main incentive for farmers to invest in the pumps, the IWMI was also interested in the environmental factors. Says Tushaar Shah, an Anand-based economist, water management expert and a senior fellow from IWMI who has been spearheading the project, “As solar power is free, the farmers may not switch off the pump, and thus draw excess groundwater. This, in turn, can deplete the aquifers. But if you pay them for surplus power generated by the pumps, this can be avoided.”
Explaining the choice of Dhundi for the experiment, Shah says a large number of farmers in the village do not use electricity on their farms as diesel pumps are too costly. “There was a greater readiness among farmers to participate. They were also willing to contribute their hard-earned money for this project,” he says.
In the next week, adds Shah, a power purchase agreement (PPA) is expected to be signed between the Dhundi Solar Ujra Udpadak Sahkari Mandali and the MGVCL, under which the farmers will sell power generated by the solar panels — when they are not being used for irrigation — to MGVCL at the rate of Rs 4.90 per unit.
It is a win-win for both — while farmers are expected to earn Rs 100-150 a day, MGVCL will also save, as it buys power from solar power generating companies at Rs 13 per unit. “MGVCL has fixed a conservative rate because it is a new model. We hope a better price will be offered to the farmers once the project stablises,” says Shah.
The solar pumps can generate about 40-45 units of power every day and can help reduce the burden on state discoms that sell subsidised power to farmers in Gujarat at an average of 56 paise per unit while paying Rs 5 per unit to private power suppliers.
The PPA with MGVCL will be for an installed power generation capacity of 100 kilowatts though the combined installed capacity of the six pumps is 54 kilowatts at present. “We plan to rope in six more farmers, and install as many solar pumps, to meet the requirements of the PPA,” says Shah.