The world population of 7.9 billion (as of April 2021) has been growing at a rapid rate of 1.05% (as of 2020). With only 3% of freshwater to support this increasing population, we are treading on thin ice.
The ongoing climate changes, rising incidents of natural disasters, increasing uncertainty in the rate of rainfall are not helping matters.
We need technological advancements along with the implementation of sustainable practices to tackle the issue of water scarcity.
Solar pumping is the silver bullet (solution) for this challenge. Extracting water and sustaining life even in the remotest part of the world can be possible now thanks to solar pumps with green energy, less carbon footprint and lower energy consumption, making water-scarce regions soon a thing of the past. The case in point being, the development of a waterfront area in the deep desert heartland of Libya, where there is no electricity; solar power pumps have helped people there sustain life for years now. The same is prevalent in many parts of Africa, where thanks to solar pumps water is accessible in regions with no access to electricity or fuel.
Solar panels nowadays are more efficient and economical than ever before. These advances have permitted a new generation of solar-powered systems. Most of these systems did not even exist until very recent times! The breakthrough in this technology has led to the complete eradication of any external power sources. The sun and the solar panels do the job by supplying all of the electricity needed to pump water from hundreds of feet underground.
Solar pumps replace fossil fuels, reducing carbon emissions and pollution while providing steady energy suited to drive the pumps. Post the initial investment, the cost of operating and managing solar pumps is minimal, allowing indiscriminate pumping of water. Easy availability and low and effortless maintenance are just a few additional features that make them a winning choice!
This unfettered freedom may come at an extraordinary expense to future generations. From 2007 to 2017, the groundwater level decreased by an astonishing 61% in India- the biggest user of groundwater!! *according to a report by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB.)*
We must brace ourselves for the water war anticipated to come in the upcoming time due to overexploitation if this scenario continues globally. No doubt the adoption of these pumps has been beneficial in saving the drain on energy resources, but the fact that it does not use energy can results in their being overdriven - a rising concern. With this unregulated access to solar pumps, farmers are no longer limited in the amount of water they can use for their fields. The fact is that with the enormous chunk of irrigation is flood based, having unfettered access to water will inevitably result in over-exploitation of the already vulnerable groundwater resources, threatening the current as well as future populations to be doomed to unquenchable thirst!
Another casualty to the ease and low cost of access to Solar pumps is Drip Irrigation, the water & nutrient saving irrigation system wherein water is allowed to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. The goal is to place water directly into the root zone to reduce evaporation. Easy availability of water on account of solar pumps may not bring to light the need and benefits of drip irrigation.
Any situation with very few or no confinements and control is a call for exploitation; we must not be surprised when the same occurs with solar pumping. Depletion of groundwater is inevitable when exploration, extraction and utilisation is available to anyone and everyone at affordable costs.
The situation is aggravated by the low percentage (as low as 0.03%) of recharge water wells! We are regressing to an era where the rivers will once again be the only source of water if they too have not been destroyed with industrial pollution by then!
To avoid a dire situation, it is vital today to introduce appropriate guidelines and regulations on solar submersible pumps in water wells extracting groundwater. Governments and policymakers, around the world, need to come together, to draft policies to, monitor water extraction and recharge of water wells. The focus has to be on making recharging of wells a standard practice globally to maintain ecological equilibrium. In the absence of these measures, there is a likelihood of, no water in the wells in the next 20 years and subsequent absence of civilization.
One more measure to mitigate the problem is for wells to come fixed with IoT (Internet of Things) integrated pumps with smart water meters. These allow communication via connected gadgets and give the desired warning, guaranteeing that only a limited amount of water is extracted at a given time. It not only increases the efficiency but also decreases the resource-draining in the water extraction process!
Although many companies are working on integrating IoT in pumps, unfortunately, so far there has been a little-to-no commercial success.
Recharge wells are an addition to the list of solutions. The idea driving this is that water collected in the well would percolate into the ground and recharge shallow aquifers. However, in urban built-up spaces, percolation and recharge levels are low. Through recharge wells, rainwater is routed into shallow aquifers, which in turn enhance groundwater levels.
For rainwater harvesting, one key element is the one that routes water back into the well - the Pipes. Loss of water on account of breakage in the pipes can jeopardize the whole project. Hence one needs to choose pipes that are reliable, sturdy and enhance the sustainability objective. uPVC pipes are the answer. They do not rust or corrode, the smooth almost frictionless surface allows for smooth flow of water, allowing for more water to flow through. Some companies offer weatherproof uPVC pipes that make them fit for every terrain.
The solar pumps solution is a positive step forward to preserve the Earth's depleting natural resources, but one needs to think beyond pumps. The frequent breakdowns in the water well & distribution system, the wastages and inconvenience, the resulting losses - all need redressal.
Switching from GI to uPVC pipes would be an easy yet effective step to reduce the maintenance costs & incidences. Quality uPVC pipes that are technologically advanced, optimized for load-bearing, are leakproof can be the icing on the cake.
It is important to ensure the next step is taken with caution to ensure that solar power pumps stay a boon for the industry, rather than a bane, harming nature and subsequently humanity.