By: Sadah Adil, Programs Manager, Cleanenergy4Africa

During the past decades solar energy became an integral part for many sorts of technologies, across the globe. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and solar thermal systems are good examples of such emerging “partnerships” so to speak, serving consumers in either solar-only or solar hybrid configurations [1]. Excluding hydropower, as of end of 2016, solar energy was considered to be the third largest renewable energy to have contributed globally to the electricity sector. Global installed capacity at the time was 308 GW. Accounted for most share of this was PV systems (303 GW – 98%) followed by solar thermal (5 GW – 2%) [2]. The growth of solar thermals is certainly indicative should we look at the recent global installed capacity being 5.1 GW in 2017 [3].

Over the past decades solar-related technologies witnessed a great expansion especially within the photovoltaic (PV) technology. This wide use of PV technologies helped reduce the retail prices within common areas of applications such as solar irrigation systems. Unlike water pumps run by diesel generators, solar water pumps play a significant role for the livelihoods of many farmers across the globe. Along with the economic benefit represented by having a cheaper overall cost of energy (COE) to pump water within the farm [4]. There is also an evident environmental advantage, solar water pumps can significantly reduce irrigation related environmental damage caused by CO2 emissions, As it can operate and achieve the level of performance close to diesel pumps without greenhouse gases emissions [4]. In Africa for instance, 95% of farmed land depends on seasonal rainfall to meet the water needs [4]. As up to 60% of food production is from non-irrigated agriculture; this poses a great risk for farmers to choose between crops to grow. At times, with limited rainfall, this may lead to growing only one or two kinds of crops [5]. Introducing solar water pumps to deliver water from various sources (e.g. groundwater, rivers) may help increase the water productivity in cultivated farms both rain fed and irrigated. This consequently raises the chances for better socio-economic returns.

One good example within the region worth looking at and studying in terms of both potential and adoption of solar water pump systems is The Sudan. With a GDP of 40.8 billion USD, 10th largest in Africa, Sudan’s economy is mostly dependent on the agriculture sector. Developments and growth over the years in both the country’s economy and population led to growing energy demands. Having an already crippled energy infrastructure combined with the accumulated energy demands over the years, Sudan finds itself in a critical fragile situation as we speak today. Today’s appalling figures is just a reflection of how troubled the energy sector is in Sudan. With the electricity access being as low as 56% across the country, this is 33% less than the average global access. In fact Sudan’s current electricity consumption lies only at 300 kWh/capita/year representing twice as less the average consumption within the continent[6].

So, one might ask what connections can we draw between the emerging solar power and Sudan’s present hunger for energy? Well gladly there is a positive connection in favor of the country!!  Sudan’s geographical location possesses a relatively high abundance of solar radiation with average temperatures ranging typically between 28 to 39 °C. In terms of an average solar radiation this accounts to 6.1 kWh/m2/day, a rather high potential for solar energy use [7]. Figure 1 below reflects potential energies available from solar irradiance in The Sudan.  

Figure (1): shows solar power potential in Sudan (Source: The World Bank) [8]

Above figure indicates how the Northern State has a great solar energy potential.  Main cities in the northern and western parts of the country namely Dongola and El Fasher indicate the highest solar radiations with 6.7 and 6.4kWh/m2/day respectively [7].

Hereafter we shall present some ongoing and planned key solar projects along with smaller sized ones and studies that shall help Sudan address at least some of its present energy demands.

Understanding the significance of this poorly tapped yet available and abundant renewable energy source both the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Sudan’s Ministry of Water Resources, Irrigation and Electricity, launched in 2016 a 5 years Solar project called ”Solar for Agriculture”. Aim of the project, which is still ongoing and expected to be concluded in 2021, is to initially install 29 solar pump systems with different sizes in the country’s Northern state. With these installed, operating and proven to be successful the project seeks to install further larger number of these to improve the farm’s productivity as well as reduce dependence on fossil fuels such as diesel. Studies provided by the project anticipates that up to 268,000 tons of diesel could be saved and as much as 860,100 tons of CO2  emissions could be avoided  [9]. Figure 2 below shows the generated emissions from an operating diesel generator.  


Figure (2): Diesel generator used to drive water pump (Source: UNDP) [10].

The project’s milestones are summarized in the following points[11]:

  • The pilot phase aims to install 29 solar pumps with different sizes in the Northern State (where farmers cannot access the national grid).
  • Project assessment: Targeted farms are monitored and evaluated for 4 seasons throughout 2 years.
  • Between 2020 and 2022, the program should cover additional farms to install 1,440 pumps.

Three years post project’s kick-off so far, indicate some promising results of 257.40 kW of solar energy powering 29 farms across seven localities to irrigate a total area of approximately 446 feddan [10]. Figures 3A and 3B below show farms included in the “Solar for agriculture” project in the northern state.

Another promising project funded through a grant from the African Development Bank (AFDB) worth of 21.7 million USD, involves installing a total of 1,170 solar pumps for farm irrigation systems in the states of West and North Kordofan. One key aim of the project is to establish workshops, not only for maintaining the pumps but for constructing these as well [12].

Even smaller sized projects such as ones conducted by the private sector are worth looking at to reflect how these too can help and contribute positively to Sudan’s continuing challenge within the energy sector. In the small village of Tamtam located in Northern Sudan, a project executed by a company called MENA-Water aimed to support the pumping of clean water to both homes and the existing school. The following parameters reflect the magnitude and size of the project, which yes, may be small in size yet has a huge impact, at least certainly amongst the most vulnerable inhabitants of the small town [13]:

  • Number of Photovoltaic Modules: 32 Pcs
  • Area for Modules: 80 m²
  • Total Electric Power: 9.2 kW
  • Borehole Pump: 6″ / 180m / 12m³/h
  • Average Water Flow: 72 m³/d

Conducting project assessment studies is necessary to boost growth in the solar water pumping market and provide invaluable info as to what type of solar systems needs to be implemented and how. One example of this was a comparative study conducted by Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering at the University of Alberta by Dr. Babkir Ali. The study aimed to investigate the most cost-effective solar water pumping system for agricultural use in Sudan. Three solar irrigation configurations (parabolic trough pump-PTP, concentrating dish pump-CDP, and photovoltaic pump-PVP), were considered based on the following aspects:

  • Collector configuration
  • Type of energy conversion

Using the economic indicator characterized by the levelized energy cost (LEC) these three configurations for water pumping applications in The Sudan were compared amongst each other. Summary results from the study indicated 0.033 $/kWh, 0.062 $/kWh, and 0.075 $/kWh for PVP, CDP, and PTP configurations respectively. Thus concluding that generally PVP configurations were the most reliable and economical paths to take when solar irrigation pumps are considered within Sudan [14].

Conducting project assessment studies is necessary to boost growth in the solar water pumping market and provide invaluable info as to what type of solar systems needs to be implemented and how.

Another survey conducted this time by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sudan on farmers using solar water pumps has provided encouraging promising results. Not only has this shown a clear reduction of CO2 emissions but moreover a high crop productivity was noted as well, with a total annual increase within a surveyed area shifting from an average of 161 to 237 tons after adoption of solar water pumps.  Also, according to the survey, summer cultivated fields within the area of study, increased up to 87% [10].

Embracing solar water pump technologies in Sudan certainly has its great positive impact when we mention Sustainable Development and more specifically the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Some of these goals that can be achieved using solar water pumps include:

  • SDG 1 (No Poverty): Using solar pumps enhances water availability. This in accordance raises food production levels which naturally lowers poverty levels.
  • SDG 2 (Zero Hunger): This simply is connected to SDG 1. With more yield production achieved the chances of exhibiting hunger become minimal.
  • SDG 7 & SDG 13 (Affordable and Clean Energy & Climate Action): Adoption of solar water pumps achieves having both a cheaper and a cleaner energy source of energy.  Moreover, using solar water pumps contributes considerably in lowering CO2 emissions and hence without doubt this enhances climate action.

Sudan’s work on many fronts, one being addressing its crippling energy infrastructure and wanting to boost its economy through the agriculture sector yet simultaneously achieve or at least seek to achieve the UN’s SDGs requires the country adopt many of its poorly invested in renewables. Solar energy, being one of these, provides huge potential to address the country’s current energy demands and future challenges.

References:

1.         Modi, A., et al., A review of solar energy based heat and power generation systems. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2017. 67: p. 1047-1064.

2.         Prăvălie, R., C. Patriche, and G. Bandoc, Spatial assessment of solar energy potential at global scale. A geographical approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 2019. 209: p. 692-721.

3.         Bishoge, O.K., L. Zhang, and W.G. Mushi, The potential renewable energy for sustainable development in Tanzania: A review. Clean Technologies, 2019. 1(1): p. 70-88.

4.         Dalberg and Efficiency for Access Coalition, Solar water pump Outlook 2019: Global trends and Market opportunities. 2019.

5.         Report of the  ministerial conference -15-17 Dec 2008, Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: the Challenges of Climate Change. 2008: Sirte, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

6.         Dr. Mohamed Alhaj. Renewable Energy in Sudan: Status and Potential – Part 1. 2020  [cited 2020 19th Jan]; Available from: https://www.renewablesinafrica.com/renewable-energy-in-sudan-status-and-potential-part-1/.

7.         Mubark Saeed, T., B.M. Tayeb, and G. Osman, Sustainable Energy Potential in Sudan. 2019.

8.         The World Bank. Solar resource maps of Sudan. 2019  [cited 2020 29th April]; Available from: https://solargis.com/maps-and-gis-data/download/sudan.

9.         The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sudan. Scaling up Solar Energy for Agriculture in Sudan. 2018  [cited 2020 14th Jan]; Available from: https://www.sd.undp.org/content/sudan/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2018/Scaling-up-Solar-Energy-for-Agriculture-in-Sudan.html.

10.       UNDP Sudan/Will Seal. Solar for Agriculture: Empowering Farmers in North Sudan. 2020  [cited 2020 28 June]; Available from: https://undparabic.exposure.co/3131f39a3894ecf86f40e6f130cfa7ba.

11.       UNDP Sudan, Sudan’s solar agriculture: , in Solar for agriculture: empowering farms in North Sudan (Unpublished work). 2020, UNDP: Sudan.

12.       Jean Marie Takouleu. SUDAN: AfDB finances solar irrigation pump project in Sudan. 2020  [cited 2020 9th June]; Available from: https://www.afrik21.africa/en/sudan-afdb-finances-solar-irrigation-pump-project-in-sudan/.

13.       MENA-Water. Solar Water Pump in Sudan.  [cited 2020 9th June]; Available from: https://mena-water.com/projects/solar-water-pump-in-sudan/.

14.       Ali, B., Comparative assessment of the feasibility for solar irrigation pumps in Sudan. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2018. 81: p. 413-420.

Featured image credits: http://taqatme.com/solar-water-pumping/

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Mohamed Alhaj

Dr. Mohamed Alhaj is a Sudanese renewable energy engineer and researcher with a strong interest in the role of clean energy in Africa's sustainable development.

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