You are here: Home » » Story

MIT team evaluates groundwater pumps in India on tech, costs

New Delhi : Farmers in India lack information on the best groundwater pumps to choose in terms of technological capability and do not have access to adequate financing mechanisms to make purchases, a study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US has revealed.

Researchers at the MIT had evaluated a range of solar pump technologies and business models available in India for irrigation to better understand which technologies can best fit farmers’ needs given the fact that groundwater pumps are a critical technology, especially for small-scale farmers who depend on them for irrigating crops during dry seasons.

The research was implemented by the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), a programme supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by a multidisciplinary team of faculty, staff and students at MIT.

To conduct the evaluation, MIT researchers worked closely with the Technology Exchange Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as the Gujarat-based Self Employed Women’s Association, a trade union that organizes women in the country's informal economy toward full employment and is currently piloting use of solar pumps in their programmes.

Researchers tested the technical performance of small solar pump systems in the workshop at MIT D-Lab, and tested larger solar pump systems in communities in India where they were in active use. This allowed for more rigorous, controlled lab testing as well as a more real-life, grounded look at how systems operated in the environment in which they would be deployed.

Researchers used a complex systems modeling technique to examine how the pumps impacted the social, economic, and environmental conditions around them, and how different government policies might impact these conditions at a macro level.

The study found that identifying the most appropriate and accessible technologies remained a challenge.

Despite the tremendous potential for solar pumps to fill a technological need in India, there is little information available to consumers about what works best for their needs and a wide range of products available for selection, researchers found.

“There’s a lot of potential for these technologies to make a difference, but there is a large variance in the cost and performance of these pumps, and lot of confusion in finding the right-sized pump for your application,” said CITE sustainability research lead and MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center research scientist Jennifer Green.

“In many areas, the only people to turn to for information are the people selling the pumps, so an independent evaluation of the pumps working with our partners provides a third-party, non-biased information alternative", said Green.

In the lab, MIT researchers procured and tested five pumps — Falcon FCM 115, Harbor Freight, Kirloskar SKDS116++, Rotomag MBP30 and Shakti SMP1200-20-30.

Lab tests on flow rate, priming ease, and overall efficiency demonstrated that two of the lower-cost pumps — Falcon and Rotomag — performed the best while the most expensive pump — Shakti — performed poorly.

The researchers also studied pump usage, installing remote sensors in panels and pumps being used in Gujarat to ensure that the pumps were being used consistently over the course of a day, and operating properly.

As solar pumps are often too expensive for small-scale farmers, CITE also conducted a business case analysis to understand what financing mechanisms might make solar pump technology more affordable for these critical end users.

Researchers looked at Government policies such as subsidizing the cost of solar equipment and paying for excess electricity production as a combination that might help farmers make this transition.

“The cost of solar pumps is still prohibitively high for individual farmers to buy them straight out,” said Green.

“It will be critical to ensure financing mechanisms are accessible to these users. Coupling solar pump systems with well-thought out Government policies and other technologies for minimizing water use is the best approach to optimizing the food-water-energy nexus", she added.

In addition to the evaluation, CITE created a pump sizing tool that can be used to help farmers understand what size pump they need given their particular field sizes, water requirements, and other factors.

“That gives them more knowledge and power when they go to talk to the water pump manufacturers,” Green said. “If they know what they need, they’re less likely to be talked into buying something too big for their needs. We don’t want them to overpay.”

“CITE’s evaluation work has been a great value-add because we can better understand which pumps are most efficient,” said Self Employed Women’s Association Director Reema Nanavaty.

Nine of the 10 worst global risks are linked to water

Water is one of the world’s gravest risks, according to the Global Risks Report published earlier this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. And the situation is actually worse than it might seem at first glance.