The use of solar power to run irrigation pumps is not new in the country. But a latest move offers something new and different to the farmers: sell your off-season idle electricity to the national grid and earn an income too.
Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB) plans to install 2,000 solar irrigation pumps under the project allowing farmers to sell their unconsumed electricity to the national grid when irrigation is no longer required.
The solar power-run pumps will replace the existing conventional diesel-run machines in 21 districts under a pilot project, said officials at the BREB.
They said the BREB's move comes as part of the government's long-term aim to gradually replace the existing 1.34 million diesel-run irrigation pumps with solar across the country.
In the first phase of the project, the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase has recently approved four separate tender proposals of the BREB to install 1,295 solar irrigation pumps at a cost of about Tk 157 crore.
"These pumps will be installed in the districts of Noagaon, Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Gopalganj, Faridpur, Madaripur, Kumilla and Feni under different rural electricity cooperatives known as Palli Biduyt Samiti (PBS)", according to a BREB document.
BREB officials claimed that under the new system, solar electricity will have a better utilization by transmitting the off-irrigation power to the national grid.
"We have calculated that farmers normally use pumps for 115-120 days of a year for irrigation, while the rest of the year the pumps remain off when solar electricity has no use," said an official.
"So, BREB will purchase this electricity from the farmers at bulk rate to ensure a better use of the unconsumed electricity," he said.
BREB officials informed that though they will install the solar irrigation pumps at BREB's own cost under a hire-purchase arrangement, the farmers will finally be their owners by repaying in instalments over a 10-year period.
They said the BREB will bear 90 per cent of the cost and the farmers will only make 10 per cent down payment to own the solar irrigation pumps.
"BREB will provide 65 per cent as grants and remaining 35 per cent as loan," said another BREB official, adding that the distribution entity will build the required power transmission lines at its own cost to facilitate farmers' sale of the electricity to the national grid.