What are solar powered water pumps?

What Can Solar Powered Water Pumps Offer in the Age of Climate Change?

February 26, 2023 - Emily Newton

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Experts in the environmental and engineering fields are hard at work devising market-friendly fixes for climate change. The effects of anthropogenic global warming are clear and they demand new approaches when it comes to planning and inhabiting the built environment. Phasing out fossil fuels means we need to electrify all of our machinery and infrastructure – including how we move water around. Solar powered water pumps are a necessary part of this transition.

Why Solar Powered Water Pumps? Why Now?

Humankind will always need reliable methods and mechanisms for transporting water around the planet. Unfortunately, we’ve been relying on expensive-to-maintain and environmentally degrading technologies like gas and diesel to help us do it. Water pumps powered by photovoltaic solar panels are the logical next step for Earth’s water-treatment, distribution, and agricultural infrastructure.

Some of the most common use cases for solar powered water pumps include:

  • Irrigating gardens and crop fields
  • Pool pumps
  • Fountains and landscaping
  • Bringing water to livestock
  • Delivering water from deep wells
  • Water pipeline transfers
  • Industrial de-icing and cooling mechanisms
  • Water management for ponds and streams
  • Wastewater purification and water treatment
  • Flood-damage remediation

This is a wide range of potential applications for solar powered water pumps, meaning there’s an enormous opportunity available to humanity to reduce carbon emissions and eliminate fossil fuels from processes all over the globe.

What Types of Solar Powered Water Pumps Are There?

Solar water pumps are similar to conventional water pumps in that they’re available in different configurations depending on the application and environment in which they’ll be deployed. These are the two kinds of solar water pump you’ll see on the market today:

  • Centrifugal pump: These pumps use the power of high-speed rotation to draw liquids through the center of the mechanism. These pumps use various amounts of alternating current (AC) to function, but their performance drops considerably at lower power levels. This type of pump may not be a good fit in areas with more consistently overcast climates due to the relatively higher power levels required.
  • Positive displacement pump: This has become the more common of the two solar powered water pump variants. The basic mechanism involves a piston pumping water through a cylinder. It may also use a helical screw to push water along. These pumps are slower than other types but are more reliable under lower power loads. In areas where photovoltaic (PV) solar power is only available intermittently, or installations with less capacity to store energy in batteries, these are the wiser choice.

Within these two types of mechanisms are two further variants: Surface pumps and submersible pumps.

Surface pumps cover previously mentioned applications like irrigating crops and circulating water in cooling systems. Submersible pumps find widespread use in pond and pool management and a wide variety of other water-transfer and purification processes.

What Are the Benefits of Solar Powered Water Pumps?

So what are the top advantages of solar powered water pumps? The United Nations Climate Technology Centre and Network observes the following enhancements and advantages compared to conventional water pump technologies:

  • Low maintenance costs: Solar water pumps are cheaper to maintain than gas- or diesel-powered water pumps.
  • No cost outlay for fuel: Gas and diesel can be expensive or volatile, pricing-wise.
  • No chance of fuel leak: This point speaks for itself. Gas and oil pipelines, and equipment that depends on them, are prone to destructive leaks.
  • Doesn’t harm the environment: The most ethically compelling reason to adopt solar powered water pumps involves environmental stewardship. Solar water pumps eliminate fossil fuels from the equation and operate without contributing further emissions.
  • Simpler, more reliable construction: Water pumps powered by solar energy contain fewer components than gas- or diesel-powered alternatives. This can make them easier to maintain and more reliable over a longer lifetime.

As more companies explore the potential of solar water pumps, expect these advantages to grow even more pronounced as the underlying technologies improve further.

It’s estimated that around 40% of the population across the globe depends on agricultural practices as their primary economic driver and source of income. Solar powered water pumps have the potential to simplify the world’s agricultural infrastructure, make it more scalable and convenient, and make it easier for farmers to capitalize on their crops without burdensome expenses or contributing greenhouse gas emissions.

What Are the Downsides of Solar Water Pumps?

Are there downsides to consider? Yes – but conscientious decision-makers and eco-minded engineers should find most of these easy to overcome. Time and further technological refinement will reduce the effects of these disadvantages and make this technology more widely accessible.

  • Higher upfront costs: Pumps powered with gas or diesel are ubiquitous and mature, meaning they’re usually cheaper than equivalent pumps powered by solar.
  • Low or intermittent performance in cloud cover: The most famous downside of solar applies to solar water heaters as well. Without the means to store power, via batteries, solar water pumps may not function reliably in cloudier regions or on overcast days.
  • Harder to find an installer: Water pump infrastructure powered by gas or diesel is a more familiar product category. You might find faster turnaround times and a wider range of providers if you opt for conventional technology for your water pumps.

Again, it’s likely that ongoing technological refinement and further adoption will spur additional breakthroughs that eliminate these shortcomings. Already, things are looking extremely bright for the solar powered water pump industry. Market Research Future published a September 2022 report predicting nearly 10% growth per year until 2030. At that point, the solar powered water pump industry could be worth $2.87 billion.

Considerations for Installing Solar Water Pumps

In late 2022, humanity reached a milestone: More than 8 billion human souls now inhabit planet Earth. Our societies and economies revolve around the idea of endless growth, but that concept isn’t compatible with our planet’s very finite resources. The management of our water requires a cleaner, greener, and far more sustainable approach.

The previously mentioned 40% of Earth’s population that relies on agricultural exports as their chief source of income is a primary beneficiary of solar water pump technology. For those applications, it’s straightforward to use head counts of cows, horses, and bulls to determine what capacity of pump you require.

Naturally, the location plays a massive role in the success of the photovoltaic water pumping installation as well. It’s highly recommended that interested parties consult maps of peak sunlight hours to see how feasible solar power is for your intended applications. Areas that are more overcast don’t rule out solar power entirely, but they’ll likely require more panels to do the same amount of work and more batteries onsite to store energy during lean times.

Ultimately, solar power represents the best available option for curbing our dangerous over-dependence on fossil fuels in water management. Especially for a piece of machinery situated so close to potable or otherwise usable sources of water, finding eco-friendly alternatives is critical.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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