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Dhundi is home to the world's first solar irrigation cooperative, where farmers harness the sun to water their crops and sell the excess to the grid.
For years, Raman Parmar, 45, used a diesel pump to irrigate the crops on his 12-bigha farm in Thamna village in Gujarat's Anand district, spending Rs 500 a day on fuel. In March last year, he installed a solar-powered irrigation pump, and within four months harvested his first `crop', earning Rs 7,500 for the power he sold to the grid.
Inspired by his example, in February this year, six farmers in Dhundi village, about 35km from the milk city of Anand, registered the Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali (DSUUSM), the world's first solar irrigation cooperative.
"Within two months, six of us have sold 5,000kWh (kilowatt-hour) of surplus solar energy to Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Limited (MGVCL), the local electricity distributor, after using solar power to run the pumps that irrigate our farms," says DSUUSM secretary, Pravin Parmar.
International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a non-profit scientific research organisation, has been encouraging farmers to harvest solar power, telling them it is "the most lucrative crop". Raman has been their most successful story so far and the organisation is using his example to encourage other farmers.
A farmer needs just about 80sqm of land to set up an 8kWh grid-tied solar power generation system. This system allows a farmer to evacuate surplus solar power to the grid at Rs 4.63 per kWh when he is not using the power to run his 7.5HP irrigation pump.
"Earlier, when we were dependent on diesel pumps, we used to spend Rs 500 to Rs 700 a day on diesel. Now, there is zero cost to irrigate our farms, water is available for free, and we get an additional income of Rs 200 to Rs 250 per day," said Pravin.
The current installed capacity of the Dhundi solar cooperative is 56.4kWh and the IWMI team plans to expand it to 100kWh over the next few months. "We have signed a power purchase agreement to sell up to 100kWh to MGVCL. Soon, we will involve more farmers from our village and strengthen the co-operative to showcase it as a model for the government to replicate elsewhere," said Pravin, who used to grow only paddy but now raises multiple crops since he is not dependent on the monsoon for water.
IWMI, which works with MGVCL and Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute, estimates that a solar pump can generate 13,000 units of power a year worth Rs 65,000 on just 125th of a hectare. Ten million solar farmers can `grow' 130 billion units of solar power and earn Rs 65,000 crore a year net of input costs.
S B Khyalia, director of Gujarat Urja Vij Nigam Limited, is more realistic. These farmers are benefitting as 90% of the pilot project is funded by the NGO and farmers save the cost of installing solar panels. But this may not be the case when it is replicated at scale. However, by going solar, we will save the cost of providing electricity to farmers," said.
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