September 2014: Energy and Water: The Solar-Powered Pumping System
World Water Week, one of the most influential water sector conferences, concluded last week in Stockholm. The conference is attended by over 200 organisations working on issues of water and development. This year’s focus was water and energy – how both are developed and managed for the good of society and ecosystems. The objective of this year’s conference was to raise awareness of the linkages between water and energy and to avoid a narrow sectorial approach to the provision of these services.
Energy and water are inextricably linked. In many cases, without a source of energy water cannot be extracted, treated and distributed to populations in need. Yet in most developing country contexts, particularly in rural areas, energy supplies are unreliable. If it’s available at all, outages are frequent. Water supply projects must be designed to address these constraints.
One method for communities to obtain water when a source of energy is unavailable is through the use of hand pumps. These provide a basic level of service and improve access to a reliable source of high quality water for small communities. However, hand pumps have their limitations, in terms of the depth to which they can extract water and the amount of water that can be pumped. In larger communities with sufficient water resources, solar panels can be used to create the energy required to power electric submersible pumps. Such pumps then extract the water from a borehole and pump it to an elevated storage tank. These systems require little maintenance and address the lack of reliable energy present in many countries. Solar-powered pumping systems are becoming increasingly utilized in developing contexts as their price comes down and their sustainability is demonstrated in the long-term.
Cowater piloted ten such systems on an award-winning MCC-funded project in Northern Mozambique, and has assisted the Department of Rural Water Supply to construct over 50 solar systems in Lesotho. In addition, as part of the development of Angola’s rural water supply and sanitation program, Cowater is recommending the government construct solar systems in larger communities where energy from the national grid is unavailable. These will be constructed under the program in the coming years.