Solar-powered irrigation systems are nothing new. The first solar-powered pumps were installed in the late 1970s. Nevertheless, it was not until 2009 when the price of solar panels started to decrease dramatically, making solar technologies affordable for agricultural purposes. Since then, there has been a race for the development of more powerful and efficient systems; every year, there are larger pumps on the market that can withdraw water from greater depths. The market potential for both small-scale and large-scale systems is great. Prices continue to drop. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is projecting a 59 percent cost reduction for electricity generated by solar PV by 2025 compared to 2015 prices. SPIS has many advantages, providing a clean alternative to fossil fuels and enabling the development of low-carbon irrigated agriculture. In areas with no or unreliable access to energy, they contribute to rural electrification and reduce energy costs for irrigation. This improves the access to water of many farmers and can have knock-on effects on agricultural productivity and incomes.
Now in 2018, this report takes stock of the experiences with SPIS around the world. What are the real costs and benefits of SPIS compared with other technologies? What rules, regulations, and policies are needed to manage the risks and realize the potential of such systems? What are viable business models? How can smallholders benefit? How can the risk of groundwater depletion be addressed effectively? How can SPIS help to empower women and promote gender equity? What types of capacity development programs are needed to support farmers, extension workers, local private sectors, and others? What are the opportunities for knowledge exchange and technology transfer?