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Scaling-up Solar Irrigation: Lessons From Policies and Programmes

By 2050, the demand for freshwater, energy and food is expected to increase significantly driven by population growth, urbanization, changing diets and socio-economic development. Meeting this rising demand against the backdrop of a changing climate and resource constraints mean that a siloed, sector-specific approach will be inadequate. It is instead best to study the interactions and interdependencies across the three sectors and to identify development pathways and solutions that maximize sustainability while jointly advancing sector-specific development goals.

Read the report here.

In recent times, renewable energy applications in the agriculture sector have gained prominence. Across agri-food systems, renewables can meet diverse energy needs for primary production, processing and storage, and final consumption . In particular, the adoption of solar irrigation has grown in recent years to reduce dependence on increasingly uncertain rainfall, unlock multiple cropping cycles and reduce fossil fuel/electricity use. Since 2014, solar pump capacity in agriculture has grown ten-fold reaching 573 MW in 2019 – with nearly all of this growth in Asia . Significant untapped potential exists elsewhere, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where rain-fed agriculture continues to dominate.

Traditionally agriculture has been rain-fed, with irrigation projects subsequently supplying large volumes of surface water in many areas. In areas where the irrigation projects have not penetrated, pump sets to extract groundwater have been the preferred method adopted by farmers. These pump sets are either powered by grid electricity supplied or independently powered by diesel engines. Recently, the falling prices of solar power have made it a feasible option for powering irrigation pump sets.

Taking a nexus approach to deploying solar irrigation solutions is key to mitigating concerns that improved access to energy for irrigation, could result in overextraction of ground water. Access to irrigation also changes cropping patterns which in turn affect water consumption. Crop losses may reduce due to changing rainfall patterns and multiple cropping cycles might be possible, but overextraction may impact long-term production and sustainability. Policies to accelerate adoption of solar irrigation must, therefore, consider impacts across sectors.

Through this webinar, IRENA and WRI aim to discuss lessons from policies and programmes introduced to support solar irrigation solutions. WRI will launch its report on “Learnings for Tamil Nadu From Grid-Connected Agricultural Solar Photovoltaic Schemes In India” which analyzes lessons from the implementation of the Government of India’s PM-KUSUM scheme across various states, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, and brings to fore valuable recommendations for other states and contexts across regions. Key lessons analyzed include determining the appropriate level and delivery of financing incentive (e.g., feed in tariff), ensuring adequate operation and maintenance provisions, and institutionalizing robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks to provide appropriate signals for policy calibrations. The webinar will convene stakeholders from across regions to share experiences for improved policy and programme design for solar irrigation solutions.

Read the report here.


  • Ute Collier, Deputy Director, Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
  • Divyam Nagpal, Programme Officer, Energy Access, Policy and Finance Centre, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
  • Deepak Krishnan, Associate Director, Energy, WRI India
  • Namrata Ginoya, Program Manager, Energy and Resilience, WRI India
  • Dr. Yashodha, Post-doctoral Fellow, International Water Management Institute
  • Vinuta Gopal, Co-founder and Director, Asar Social Impact Advisors Pvt Ltd
  • Sundarrajan G, Poovulagin Nanbargal
  • Mattia Vianello, Head of Energy, Practical Action
  • ​​Olivier Dubois, Senior Natural Resources Officer & Leader, Energy Programme Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment; FAO (Moderator)

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