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Improving Water Security through the use of Solar Energy – Guidance Note, July 2017

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Rationale.

Solar pumping technology has in the recent past undergone a series of technical and cost developments resulting in advanced, robust, versatile, low maintenance equipment that could be considered as a default option for water provision in places with medium to high solar radiation, especially in off-grid locations, long term camp contexts or there where fuel is needed to provide water but its supply is too costly or erratic.

Favorable policies from an increasing number of governments together with presence of some trained private sector distributors of good quality solar equipment in literally every country, further support solar uptake and should be counted upon in order to facilitate adoption of solar solutions for water supply projects -either for human, animal consumption or irrigation purposes-.

From an energy intervention point of view, prioritization of smart-energy, life-saving activities that also lead to a reduction in expenditure over time should make the support of solar technology for water provision a priority intervention.

Additionally, friendly environmental considerations make solar technology a climate-smart choice, especially when considered against any diesel-based option. The high potential for cost-reduction would be only realized if analysis and funding decisions are based in costs over life cycle of schemes rather than on capital costs of installations only

Context 1 - Camps: mainstreaming of solar pumping

In camp contexts with a perspective of being in place for 2-3 years, solar pumping should be considered by default and from as early stage in time as possible, whenever they are able to meet a significant amount of the water demand. Stand-alone solar systems should be favored over Hybrid (solar + back-up power source) unless:

  • Population figures are not well known or are prone to sudden increases at short notice - Behavior of the aquifer is largely unknown - Experience in solar pumping is low or inexistent among WASH partners or in the area of work In older camps, solarization of water schemes should be prioritized looking first at a) camps with high recurrent costs to ensure water provision and b) smaller schemes first, as its solarization is often more cost effective (capital investment is lower and the return period shorter than in larger water schemes).

Context 2 - Host-communities: social aspects before technology choice

Solar pumping is, from the technical point of view, equally appropriate for water supply projects at host community level. Anecdotal evidence shows that it is the most economical option of all, including handpumps, and certainly it should be considered as a default option there where diesel generators are used, in order to increase sustainability and resilience of communities.

As a difference with camps, aspects to do with ownership, operation and maintenance, add an extra-layer of complexity when considering solar pumping at host-community level.

A well thought social approach, involving contribution from users, should come before technology choice. In this sense, prioritizing communities with strong social cohesion and coordinating approaches with government water offices should be a pre-requisite.