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Solar PV Water Pumping System for Rural Development in Nepal:

Problems and Prospects.

Jagan Nath Shrestha"

*Professor, Department of Electronics Engineering

Institute of Engineerhg,
PO Box 1175, Kathmandu,
Fax: + 977 1 521 985

Abstract Finally, the paper indicates the importance of tramng for the
The bulk of Nepal's rural population do not have access to local people in installation, operation and routine maintenance (
piped drinking water. It is reported that less than 10% of the including trouble shooting and provision of spare parts ) to
rural population has access to drinking water. ensure the reliability of the SPW S The paper emphasises the
Reducing the time women have to spend in water collection is mvolvement of end-users from the very beginning of p l m n g
one of the policy aims for expanding water supply. Easy access stage of S P W S Detail comparison between a SPVWPS and
to drinking water supply significantly changes the physical an equivalent diesel generator is also indicated in the paper.
quality of life index.
The Government's plan is to provide access to water supply for Introduction
the entire population by the end of the century. This will be More than 90% of the total population of Nepal live m remote
difficult to achieve unless new (non-conventional ) technologies mountains, hills and plain The bulk of Nepal's rural population
such as solar photovoltaic water pumping systems are used do not have access to piped drmking water, which is the second
where other cheaper alternatives are not feasible. most important basic need for survival It is reported that less
Although PV water pumping systems have high initial costs, than 10% of the rural population has access to drinking water
they require virtually no maintenance, require no fuel and thus Per capita consumption of drinking water in Nepal is less than 5
save foreign exchange. They are easy to install and operate, have litres /day [ 1 ]
no moving parts and hence are highly reliable and durable and For places where the drinking water supply is scarce and
are modular in nature for future expansion.PV systems are found gravity flow of water is not feasible, the possible alternative is to
to be competitive with conventional diesel generator systems. use diesel pumps, but this is often beyond the reach of rural
Despite of above mentioned facts policy makers are still not communities mainly because of technical matters related to their
convinced that solar PV water pumping systems can support reliable operation and maintenance Diesel pumps often fail due
rural development.This paper also gives reasons for the failures to lack of simple regular maintenance.
of some solar PV water pumping projects in Nepal . Nepal has an annual average of 4 to 5 peak sun hours per day.
Development of solar electricity totaling about 800 KWp in This is sufficient to pump water using SPVWPS (Solar
Nepal is briefly kghlighted. Basic preconditions are identified Photovoltaic Water Pumping System) and it could be a very good
for the successful operation of solar PV water pumping systems. alternative to other similar technologies. The main advantage
The findings of successful solar PV water pumping systems are associated with SPVWPS is that the time of peak water demand
highlighted with specific reference to socio-economic impacts in usually coincides w t h the maximum daily solar insolation, the
the rural society. Subsidy policy of the government on solar PV available pumping power is thus well matched to the demand
water pumping systems is analysed. Development of a situation The continuous fall in the cost of the PV modules over
spontaneous market for community solar PV water pumping recent years has led to the SPVWPS becoming economically
system is analysed. Suggestions are given on how solar PV water feasible
pumping system can be made more affordable by village people. Reducing the time women have to spend in water collection is
Typical Nepalese rural areas are found to be suitable and one of the policy aims for expandmg water supply network Easy
economical for SPVWPS. Site evaluation procedure is given. access to drinking water supply significantly changes the
physical quality of life index (PQLI)

1657 $4.00 0 1996 IEEE

49% of the total population do have access to a d d i n g water
Solar Electricity in Nepal supply facility in urban and rural areas respectively [ 18 ]
First officially recorded use of solar electricity in Nepal is not The population coverage by D W S S M S C [ 7 ] projects IS
known. But it is said that the Nepal Telecommunications shown in figure 1 below
Corporation ( NTC ) was the first organisation to use solar
electricity to power a high frequency communication transceiver Population Coverage by
located in Damauli in 1974. Since then NTC has become the DWSS/NWSC Projects
most significant user of solar electricity in the country amounting a
to more than 600 KWp generating about 3000 KWWday of ii
electrical energy at more than 250 locations, without NEA grid 2 10000 Coverage
supplied electricity [ 4 1. Similarly the Department of Civil 5 8000 0 Rural
Aviation ( DCA ) is using more than 14 KWp of solar electricity i= Coverage
at 43 locations for communication equipment, locator beacons, a-
6000 Urban
marker beacons, radio beacon, VHF direction finders and visual 0
4000 Coverage
landing aids. NTC and DCA must have chosen photovoltaic 5s 2000
technology as the most economic and reliable solution for a 0
generating electricity at locations where NEA grid supplied
electricity is not available. So far there have been no complaints
against this technology at these locations probably due to good
planning by engineers concerned. NTC and DCA engineers must
have very good reasons for continuing to use solar electricity. Fig. 1
But the picture is totally different in case of NEA, with a peak In case of Kathmandu valley, the water demand is 130 million
installed capacity of photovoltaic ( PV ) based generation of 130 litres per day as against the supply of 110 million litres per day
KWp at Gumgadh, Simikot and Tatopani (Kodari). It is during rainy season and 60 million litres per day during dry
reported that those plants are not functioning properly due to season. The distribution loss is significant 40% [2].
technical problems related to balance of system, overloading and Nepal's annual water use as a percentage of its internal
low irradiance. All of these problems could have been avoided renewable water resources during the period of 1970 - 94 is
with more careful planning. Perhaps the unsatisfactory found to be only 1.6% against 18.2% in india.In Nepal, percapita
functioning of these solar powered installations leads energy consumption of water during the period 1974 - 94 is found to be
planners to believe that photovoltaic technology does not work in 150 cubic metres as against 612 cubic meters in India during the
Nepal, that it is too costly and that it is unreliable. A project same period.[3]
which fails because the planners failed to allow for proper More than 4 million children are suffering from the deficiency
maintenance and proper forecasting of load is not an example of of safe drinking water thus increasing the child mortality rate in
the failure of solar electricity. It is an example of the failure of the country. Energy is being spent at the rate of 4 calories/litre
the planning. for bringing water from a distant water source.
To tackle these problems the Government is planning to provide
Solar Electncity CO Pvt Ltd , Wisdom Light Group and Lotus water supply for the entire population by 2000 AD. The eighth
Energy, the Nepalese enterprises lnvolved m PV based rural plan targets to provide drinking water supply system to 77 9'0
electnfication mcludmg SPVWPS, must have seen great and 71% of the total population of urban and rural areas [22]. To
potenha1 for solar electricity in Nepal. It is reported that these meet these targets, the government has negotiated for grants and
companies are producmg balance of systems (BOS) and loans with different organizations as shown in figure 2.
larmnatmg PV modules locally These companies are reported to
3fomparisions of current state of grant and loans
have sold at least 150 PV solar home systems in more than 30
districts of Nepal withm last two years Small scale SPVWPS 30
specially for drmlung water supply may fmd potential market m
Nepal because it is based on renewable energy sources, it is 25
decentralised, Its cost IS comparatively low for small farmers 20
through commumty schemes, it needs m m a l operation and
malntenance and it has good prospects for local manufacturer
andor assembly, especially low cost reliable pumps Centre for
G 15
Renewable Energy (CRE) , the only Nepalese N O promoting E
renewable energy technologies, is heavily involved in managmg 0
and promotion of PV based rural electrification

Present Situation
It is indicated that only 50% of thc total population do have
' Agency

access to a drinking water facility. Out of this, only 64% and

Fig. 2

This will be difficult to achieve fdly using traditional methods Although PV water pumping systems have high initial costs,
in all parts of Nepal unless some new non-conventional they require virtually no maintenance, require no fuel and thus
technologies such as solar photovoltaic water pumping systems save foreign exchange. They are easy to install and operate, have
are used. SPVWPS have significant potential in unelectrified no movmg parts and hence are highly reliable, durable and are
areas such as in southern Terai of Nepal where the water lable is modular in nature for future expansion. The solar PV water
within reasonable depth below the ground level. pumping systems can be installed at the site of use thus
eliminating the need for long pipe lines.
A SPVWPS consists of a PV array mounted on a stand and one Comparision with Diesel Pump
of the following motor-pumpsets compatible with the PV array: For water pumping applications, PV systems are widely found
d.c. surface mounted centrifugal pumpset, d.c. submersible to be competitive with conventional diesel generator systems. It
pumpset, d.c. floating pumpset, a.c. submersible pumpset. is estimated that solar PV water pumping systems are more
The PV array converts the solar energy into electricity which is economical compared with diesel pumpsets up to about 3 KWp
used for running the motor pumpset. Required hydraulic energy for village community and around 1 KWp for irrigation of
in joules is calculated as [6] agricultural fields growing specially cash crops. Detail
comparison between Solar PV and diesel system is shown
E=pgvh below.
Generally, solar photovoltaic has an advantage over diesel-
Where, based power when the following conditions are met(7):
E - required hydraulic energy in Joules. - There is no existing power grid: The cost saving of not having
to build an expensive grid, particularly for communities with
v - required volume of water in cubic metres ( m3). widely separated houses, tend to make solar PV competitive
with diesel.
h - total head in metres ( m ). - Access to land is a problem: Solar PV does not require land for
- density of water ( 1000 kg/ m’). equipment or rights-of-way for transmission and distribution
g - gravitational acceleration ( 9.81 m/s2). - Diesel fuel is costly, and reliable transportation for fuel is
expensive or unavailable: Solar PV requires no fuel.
- Peakloads are high for short periods.
With v in cubic metres and h in metres, the pumping
energy is - The number of cutomers is likely to increase over time:
Individual solar PV systems can be added as needed, whereas
E = 9.81 * 10.~vh MJ
central systems may have to be sized larger than initially
necessary in anticipation of future load growth.
[ 3.6 M J = 1 KWH]

The pumping system with energy E draws water from the open
well, bore well, stream, pond, canal etc. Pumping capacity varies
from 100 Watts upward. 40 I
A SPVWPS is expected to deliver a minimum of 15,000 litres
per day for a 200 watts array from a suction head of 7 metres on
I ,Human

a clear day. The discharge from the pump would vary with the
intensity of the sun rays from morning until1 evening and it
would be maximum at noon time.
Decision charts for an appraisal of solar pumps for rural water
supply is shown. [6]
SPVWPS serve the basic development needs in rural
communities such as providing water for humans and animals
that is free fi-om disease; increasing the amount of land use for
agriculture and increasing much needed agricultural
A solar PV powered pumping system can provide drinking
water without requiring any fuel or extensive maintenance in
companson to diesel pumps. SPVWPS may allow people to be
involved in more productive activities and can thus improve life-
style, health and economic conditions. In this way, additional
employment is generated in rural remote areas of the country.
The drudgery of women and children who otherwise keep
themselves engaged in bringing water from far off distances can
Fig. 3
be reduced sipficantly.

- Noise or air pollution is a concem Solar PV creates neither, - Village demands for power are high Diesel systems benifit
diesel system generate both from economies of scale, solar PV does not
- Qualified maintenance workers are not readily available - Solar irradiance is low
Trammg for solar mamtenance is less complex, lower in cost,
and more llkely to succeed among rural persons w t h limited Unit water costs verses static lift is shown in the figure 3 for
formal education than is tramng for diesel maintenance different technologies [ 8 ]
There are some disadvantages of solar PV over diesel systems Envlronmental savmgs from Photovoltaic modules as per [ 9 ]
under the followmg cicumstances is given below (Table 1)

Conditions Required for Optimum Operation of SPVWPS

Present Status of SPVWPS in Nepal Basic conditions requlred for optimum worlung condition of
The eighth Plan of HMGN focuses on the development and SPVWPS are
extension of technologies related to harvesting of rain water, * Proper SPVWPS Plannmg
h e r ' s pump, wmdmll and use of solar enerq and other * Sufficient and stable solar madiance over the whole year
technologies which can be used in drinking water projects. * No electric grid connection m the foreseeable future
Despite the above mentioned facts, policy makers are still not * Proper maintenance schedule
convmced that solar PV water pumping systems can support Active participation of the SPVWPS users
rural development The policy makers have sufficient reasons * Easy access to spare parts and facility for local repan-s
for t h ~ s In the last ten years ten solar PV water pumping
systems (known to author) were installed in the different parts In addition, site evaluation is a must for long term reliable
of the country The list is given in table 2 functioning of SPVWPS. Site evaluation should be carried
The five of mentioned systems are not worlung properly and bearing in mind matters like: water requirement, hydraulic
reasons for this are many, mcludmg technical and management energy required, available solar irradiance, a suitable system
problems. configuration, sizing the solar pump and specifying solar pump
Solar SPVWPS in some cases have failed to provide reliable
service, mainly due to mistakes made at the project inception
stages. In some cases solar pumps failed simply because water
itself was not available and so also the maintenance facilities
specially related to balance of system. Some policy makers are
reluctant to recommend SPVWPS simply because of these
problems which could have been easily avoided if proper
planning were done in time.
ADBN has published a notice indicating that 70% of the total
cost of SPVWPS equipment for irrigation purpose is to be
subsidised. The author does not know a single case where the
people despite their effort have benefited &om this policy.
Major problems related to SPVWPS are:
* lack of fmancing institutions
* lack of information dissemination at various levels
* lack of trained manpower
* lack of repair and maintenance
* lack of direct government support through subsidy
* lack of confidence in SPVWPS among policy makers
* lack of quality and standardised products in the local

Table 2

I I 8 Bhaktapur 1 Bode
WC Working Condition L Lighting
NC Not in working Condition NA Not Available
DW Drinking Water SL+H Static Level and Head
* Two stage lift( 35 m + 35 m )
SPVWPS operation at
One of the successful SPVWPS was installed in Chisapani Sundarighat, Kathmadu
VDC of Tanahun. Although this is a very small SPVWPS with
just 212 Wp modules and shurflow pumps installed at 2 stages 45 -
with a total head of 70 meters. T h s project was initiated by the
villagers themselves with a nominal assistance from Denmark.
40 -
With the implementation of this SPVWPS in Chisapani, 55 35 -
families (especially women and girls benefitted) significantly.
US$5000 can buy a very small SPVWPS sufficient to supply 30 -
dnnking water for about two hundred people. Nepal is
subsidising heavly the cost of kerosene, petrol, diesel and even 25 -
electricity mostly available in urban areas. In the same way,
SPVWPS should be subsidised and the subsidy should be given 20 -
readily through the local banks and contribution from the 15 -
villagers must be an important part to ensure the active
paticipation of the local people. 10 -
Another good project identified is SPVWPS in Kathmandu
Sundarighat. A typical solar irradiance [ 10 1, PV power 5-
generation and volume of water pumped are shown in Fig. 4.
S P W S are appropriate (for drinking water and irrigation
for using high value cash crops), especially in the southern part
of Nepal known as Terai where the fertility of soil is high and 0P m i Generalion (Why)
ground water level is low. These initiative will decrease the
payback period of SPVWPS.
Fig. 4

The rise in the price of petrolium based fuels[ 8 ] is only
partial justification for giving increased attention to the use of
descentralised renewable energy sources in the contest of the
development of the vitally important rural areas in developing
countries. Other material factors which contribute to this
emphasis on the utilisation of small alternative sources include
for example, encouragement of personnel responsibility for use
and maintenance; reduced dependence in central power
facilities and long transmission lines; reduced effect of
irragularily in the supply of fuel; reduced dependence on third
parties and improved agricultural productivity and rural health.
A project which fails because the planners failed to allow for
proper maintenance and proper management is not an example
of the failure of SPVWPS. It is an example of the failure of the
When traditional methods of supplying drinking water in
remote areas is not feasible, properly planned and maintained
SPVWPS could be effectively and efficiently used for ~s
purpose specially when population to be served is not hlgh.
Although initial investment on SPVWPS is comparatively high,
in the long run its life cycle cost is less than the cost of similar
technology such as diesel pump system in the specified range.

1 "Economc Survey, FY 1993/94", 1994, HMGN, MOF
2 "Nepal Khanepani Sansthan - An Introduction", June 1995
3 "The World Bank Atlas, 1996", The World Bank
Washmgton D C
4 "The Eighth Plan", HMG/N, NPC, July1992
5 "Kantipur",daily news paper dated 12 March, 1996
6 Kenna, J , "Solar Watei Pumpmg", 1985, A Handbook,
Intermediate Technology Publications, London,
7 A Liebenthal, S Mathur and H Wade, 1994, "Solar Energy,
Lessons From the Pacific Island Expenence", World Bank
technical Paper No 244, Energy Series, , Washington D C
8 Halcrow W , et a1 , June 1983, "Small scale solar powered
pumpmg systems The technology, its economics and
advancement" Main report to the World Bank, UNDP
Project GL0/80/003,
9 Schaeffer, J , (ed), April, 1992, "Alternative Energy
Sourcebook", 7th edition, Reai Goods, California
10 "Dcmonstraline Research for Photovoltaic Power
Generation System in Nepal", March 1995, ( field
expenmentatioddemonstration of solar photovoltaic water
pumping systems under Neplese metrological conditions),
Showa Shell Sekiyu K K , Tokyo, Japan