Water Pumping in the Sahel

The Regional Solar Programme (RSP) was one of the early systematic programs to apply PV technology to solve pressing problems in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa. Financed by a grant from the European Commission, to cover the cost of PV equipment and other procedures

such as training, information and public awareness activities, regional coordination and technical assistance, this program was launched in 1989. The goal of the RSP was to install almost 1.4MWp of PV modules (about 3.5% of the world market at that time) in water-pumping systems, vac­cine refrigerators, community lighting and battery-charging stations. At the end of the program, a total of 626 pumping systems and 644 communal systems had been installed and a wealth of lessons learned.

The principal objectives of the RSP were [55] to improve the accessibility of water in both quantity and quality, to improve the economic condition of the villagers by development of complementary resources through gardening, to reduce the time spent in procuring drinking water, to train personnel for project management, to create management groups for the solar equipment and to develop and adopt a legal framework for operation of the equipment with contractual structure of the relations between users and private companies.

Not all specific goals and objectives originally planned were fully met, but important lessons were derived. The drinking water component of the program took more than 90% of the installed PV power, so the lessons learned apply basically to this application. Solar pumping was found to be more affordable than diesel motor pumping, by about a factor of two per cubic meter of water. Compared with the per inhabitant cost of manual water-raising pumps, including the borehole, investment in PV pumping systems was about 10% higher, but the service quality of PV pumps was superior. Of the total installed cost, 31% was for the supply of the PV sys­tem, 11% for installation, 12% for regional activities (including coordination, quality control, tests, monitoring and the like) and 46% for the distribution network, water tower and other reception infrastructure.

One mode of management of the water supply system used in some communities was directly inspired by the management of water points equipped with manual pumps through a vil­lage water committee. This management system, however, was not effective owing to a number of difficulties, including an imperfect mastering of the accounting tools and a quasi-systematic confu­sion of the responsibilities assigned to the principal members of the committee. Other communities preferred delegating the management of the entire system to a private-type body on a fee basis or to a communal-type body. These latter forms of management seemed better suited to the local conditions than the water committee scheme.

The idea of using PV technology to improve productivity of market gardening and farming was finally abandoned, hence the prospects of PV technology in Sahel were found in meeting specific domestic electrical needs (lighting, radios and TV sets), in pumping drinking water and in telecommunications.

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