Solar irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa: economic feasibility and development potential

Falchetta, G. ORCID:, Semeria, F., Tuninetti, ., Giordano, V., Pachauri, S. ORCID:, & Byers, E. ORCID: (2023). Solar irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa: economic feasibility and development potential. Environmental Research Letters 18 (9) e094044. 10.1088/1748-9326/acefe5.

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Irrespective of water resource abundancy, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) agriculture is predominantly rainfed. Along with fertilisation, irrigation could support smallholder farmers in stabilizing crop yields, increasing incomes, and achieving food security. A key barrier to irrigation uptake is inadequate rural electricity supply for pumping and distributing water, besides other infrastructure deficits. Here we devise a spatially explicit integrated modelling framework to show that over one third of unmet crop water requirements of 19 major crops in smallholder cropland of SSA could be supplied with standalone solar (photovoltaic) PV irrigation systems that can be paid back by farmers within twenty years. This accounts for 60 km3/yr. of blue irrigation water requirements distributed over 55 million ha of currently rainfed harvested area (about 40% of the total). Crucially, we identify 10 million ha with a profit potential > $100/ha/yr. To finance such distributed small-scale infrastructure deployment and operation, we estimate an average discounted investment requirement of $3 billion/yr., generating potential profits of over $5 billion/yr. from increased yields to the smallholder farmers, as well as significant food security and energy access co-benefits. We demonstrate the critical importance of business models and investment incentives, crop prices, and PV & battery costs in shaping the economic feasibility and profitability of solar irrigation. Yet, we estimate that without strong land and water resources management infrastructure and governance, a widespread deployment of solar pumps may drive an unsustainable exploitation of water sources and reduce environmental flows. Our analysis supports public and private stakeholders seeking to target investments along the water-energy-food-economy-sustainable development nexus.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: solar irrigation; rural economic development; smallholder farming; food security; land-water-energy-food nexus
Research Programs: Energy, Climate, and Environment (ECE)
Energy, Climate, and Environment (ECE) > Integrated Assessment and Climate Change (IACC)
Energy, Climate, and Environment (ECE) > Sustainable Service Systems (S3)
Energy, Climate, and Environment (ECE) > Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions (TISS)
Depositing User: Michaela Rossini
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2023 12:16
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2023 11:35

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