Solar powered water pumps have been growing in popularity since 2012. Submersible well water pumps
located in remote areas have previously required power from a generator or engine, with all of the noise
and fossil fuel pollution that comes along with those energy solutions. The lure of operating pumps far
from the grid, without the noise, without the pollution, and without the need to refuel generators or
motors, is huge.
Of course, the reduced life cycle cost is a big factor as well. The maintenance costs and operational costs
for a solar well pump are much less than for a diesel powered pump.
Typical applications for solar pumps include:
- Remote Homes
- Crop Irrigation
- Livestock Watering
- Game Reserves
- Ground Water Control
- Drinking Water in Underdeveloped Countries
The first important thing to know about solar powered water pumps is that the actual physical installation
of the pump and motor are the same as for any other submersible well pump. The bore sizing is the same
(3 inch, 4 inch, etc…) as is the hole itself. The well driller will not need to do anything different than
normal. Also, installing the pump in the hole is the same as any other well pump.
The only disadvantage to solar powered water well pumps is the acquisition cost. You can expect to pay
50% to 120% more for a solar powered well pump versus an AC motor well pump. This extra expense is
due to the solar panels (photovoltaic array), and the necessary pump controllers and inverter, depending
on which particular pump you are purchasing.
However, the payback period, even when conditions are less than optimal, is under 5 years. A study was
conducted on a large project in Jordan involving 55 solar water well pumps. The pumps were specified in
2010, and the study was complete in 2014. This study was done on pumps using solar panel technology
that is now a decade old. And still, the total cost per kWh (kilowatt hour) was $0.136 / kWh for solar and
$0.239 for diesel generators! That is a total cost of solar pumps at 44% below that for diesel, and this cost
takes into account the additional acquisition cost of the solar pumps and photovoltaic arrays.
Of course, this economic analysis doesn’t include the reduction in CO2 emissions (100% less for solar),
particulate matter emissions (100% less for solar), and noise reduction (95% less for solar).
Another feature of solar well pumps is that they are typically capable of running off of any renewable
power source. Windmills and batteries can be used to power most solar pump models – and most can also
run off of the grid or a generator, if your circumstances change or the pump is relocated. Be sure to check
with the manufacturer of any pump prior to purchase if this is important to you.
Some pump companies provide solar panels along with their pumps. Others expect the owner or installer
to provide the photovoltaic arrays and support equipment. Make sure to keep this in mind as you
Running your pump directly off of the solar panels is the lowest cost way to operate. However, you may
want to include a battery as part of your solar pump package. This will keep you covered in case of the
need to operate at night or in cloudy conditions. Of course, there is some efficiency lost by having the
solar panels charge the battery, and the battery then power the pump
Lastly, there are many local, county, state, and federal incentive plans to individuals and companies that
implement a solar powered pumping solution. These inventives can make your Return On Investment
impressive indeed, and bring your payback period to well under 5 years.