Ludhiana: With demand from farmers and researchers for almost 10 years, the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI), a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has come up with a solar tree, catering specially to agricultural lands.
This solar tree actually seems like an original tree with branches of solar panels harnessing solar energy for producing electricity, with an innovative vertical arrangement of solar panels. Therefore, reducing the requirement for land, as compared to a conventional solar photovoltaic layout.
With its application in precision agriculture, the brainchild behind this project, Harish Hirani, director, CSIR-CMERI said: “Special attention has been given to make it shade-free for achieving higher efficiency as well as to provide a better aesthetic look. The farmers do not need any roof to install solar panels. It is designed keeping in mind the power requirement of irrigation pumps for agricultural purposes.”
Highlighting the issue of wastage of water and electricity, he added: “Farmers always require water and electricity. Most of the times, the government is unable to fulfil this need. Often water and electricity are provided free, so a few people do not care, and utilise water resources recklessly. To avoid the wastage of water, moisture sensors can be installed in the fields to know how much quantity of water is required.”
Daljit Inderpal Singh, chief engineer of Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), said: “All farmers are given free electricity and water, and the government pays the tariff to PSPCL on behalf of farmers. This technology is better for consumers who pay us in cash and are charged under meter reading. However, ordinary farmers hesitate as the capital investment is more, but with help of cooperative panels, farmer groups paying more than Rs15,000 per month can get group benefits.”
Dr Malay Karmakar, senior scientist and Partha Sarathi, scientist from CMERI Department of Energy Research and Technology, said: “A sustainable level of groundwater withdrawal with precision agriculture, by scheduling irrigation or using soil moisture sensors provides the potential to enhance irrigation efficiency and reduce groundwater depletion.”
Baldev Singh, chief agriculture officer, Ludhiana, said: “This solar tree and panels are only going to benefit areas which have water levels less than 35 feet, otherwise if the water table is further down, the motor does not work. A few farmers have opted for solar pumps, but in general, motors are the main equipment for pumping of water. However, farmers of Machiwara have also installed solar panels and pumps, and they are of great use. We can promote the solar tree after going through the project outline and calculations. Now, farmers will not think of buying from their own pocket as both the things (water and electricity) are free.
One 8kw solar power tree (named as Solar Chakra) and two 3kw solar power trees are installed at the Centre of Excellence for Farm Machinery, Ludhiana, and Extension Centre of CMERI at Gill Road. The 8kw installed capacity at CSIR-CMERI centres provide power to operate the agriculture irrigation pump. The electricity generated from the Solar Chakra is currently utilized for running irrigation pumps — which includes a 7.5 horsepower capacity submersible pump, and a 5 horsepower monoblock pump — for irrigating five acres of land. Apart from this, 10-12 hours of power supply to the institute guest house and campus streetlights is provided by the solar energy stored in batteries. This initiative by CMERI helps reduce the carbon footprint and provide a sustainable solution to farmers.
Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) vice-chancellor Dr Baldev Singh Dhillon said: “PAU is also exploring options. As far as solar power is concerned, everybody is in agreement. But for doing agriculture underneath solar panels, we are exploring it at our research farm in Ludhiana as well as KVK Samrala. We are working on crops like turmeric and sweet potato. We will recommend any technology once we have tested it out for about three years and worked out its cost-benefit ratio. For doing agriculture, the solar tree designed by CMERI looks much better than a usual solar panel.”
PAU Kisan Union president Manpreet Singh said: “Farmers are keen to adopt such technologies, but cost recovery takes a lot of time and farmers do not have any risk-taking capacity. They cannot wait for payback periods. Initially, there were loans from National Horticulture Board for farmers who only grow cash crops. The main issue is that subsidy is less in Punjab as compared to farmers of Haryana and Rajasthan, which is 70%. But this is a welcome step not only due to space utilisation, but also security, and it is hardly a one-time investment.”
COST & SUBSIDY
A 3kw solar tree, in which there are 10 panels, the cost is approximately 3.75 lakh. An 8kw solar tree, in which there are 25 panels, the cost is approximately 8 lakh. However, officials say government is working out a subsidy plan for the solar trees, which will benefit farmers. CSIR-CMERI is utilizing these panels in 5 acres of farmlands and to light up streetlights in the campus.
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