The team includes Daniel BrentAssistant Professor at the Institute of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education; Michael JacobsenProfessor at the Chair of Ecosystem Management; Praharsh PatelDoctoral student in the Energy and Environmental Economics course; Christopher Scott, Maurice K. Goddard Chair in Forestry and Conservation and Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; and Emily Pakhtigian, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Policy. The title of the project is “Analysis of Solar Irrigation Pump Adoption in India within the Food-Energy-Water Nexus: Implications for Carbon, Groundwater Depletion and Agricultural Productivity.”
According to Patel, groundwater in India is an important source of irrigation and one of the most exploited resources in the country. In some regions, groundwater levels are falling by more than 10 feet annually. In addition, India is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater, more than the United States and China combined. According to a World Bank report, more than half of India’s aquifers will be at risk by 2030 if this trend continues.
“We’re looking at this policy, which focuses on providing solar irrigation to farmers, and we’re interested in the potential impact on groundwater,” Brent said. “The solar panels can reduce carbon and provide more stable electricity for irrigation, but we were concerned about perhaps some of the unintended consequences in terms of groundwater depletion.”
Bringing solar irrigation pumps to India has several advantages.
“Many countries are trying to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, and solar panels offer independent energy sources,” Jacobson said. “Then we need to think about the other benefits, not just the greenhouse gases, including agricultural production, energy savings and hopefully more efficient water use.”
The policy promotes water conservation by allowing farmers connected to India’s power grid to sell excess energy they produce back to the grid, but this too impacts on the policy’s original intent.
“I’ve seen some farmers willing to put farming aside to just produce solar energy,” Patel said. “Whereas the whole point of this policy was to encourage solar irrigation so that even the less affluent farmers can reap financial benefits if they are unable to farm due to drought or some other climate-related disaster.”
The team is also examining barriers to farmer adoption of the policy. In rural India these are financial hurdles, technical know-how and the availability of spare parts for the solar irrigation pumps.
While these policies aim to solve a challenge at the heart of the food, energy and water nexus, they raise questions about the future.
“This is a bigger question about meeting climate goals and dealing with food security,” Jacobson said. “We have to think about population growth. India will be the world’s most populous country, overtaking China by mid-century. How are we going to feed these people?”
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