What is ailing the growth of solar irrigation in Bihar? 

Highlights :

* Bihar is one of the few Indian states with no active central or state scheme for solar irrigation/solar pumps for its farmers.   

* Simultaneously, the state offers higher subsidies for fossil-dominated sources like diesel and grid electricity. 

* Lack of trained workforce to repair solar pumps, and absence of retail shops for equipment act as a deterrent for the longevity of solar pumps 

What is ailing the growth of solar irrigation in Bihar?  India's Solar Capacity Touches 72 GW, Rajasthan Takes The Lead

Birender Singh is a 68-year-old farmer based at Azamgarh village in Sitamarhi district of Bihar. Buoyed by his interest in solar, he installed a 2HP, off-grid solar pump in 2016. It was installed under the state government’s Chief Minister New and Renewable Energy Solar Pump Scheme

Singh was among the 2,771 farmers who received the subsidized solar pump under the scheme. The programme allowed 75 percent subsidy to farmers. So, out of the total earmarked Rs 2,05,800 for his single 2HP pump, he paid only Rs 51,450 as its upfront costs. 

Singh now flaunts his lush green garden spread over 2,500 sq-mts, grown and irrigated solely with solar power. The garden now hosts more than 10 varieties of vegetables and fruits ranging from mango, pumpkin, okra, tomato, taru roots, and chilies. 

“I had grown several crops on my fields like paddy, pulses and others with diesel pumps. However, I shunned diesel later and completely grew my own vegetable garden with solar irrigation. It not only helped me to reduce my dependency on polluting sources but also helped me save money. If I had used diesel to irrigate the same piece of land, I would have spent around Rs 15,000 annually,” Singh told Saur Energy.

He said that this helped him to recover his upfront cost within 3-4 years of the operations of his solar pumps. Similar is the tale of Rajeev Ranjan, a marginal farmer from Bhatu Bigha village in the Nalanda district. Ranjan, who once relied heavily on diesel for irrigating his one acre of agricultural land, quit diesel after getting a 3HP subsidized solar pump under the same scheme. However, other farmers in the state who wanted to deploy green energy to cater to the power needs for irrigation are not that lucky, like Singh and Ranjan. 

Subsidies halted 

BREDA operated the scheme for five years and later discontinued it. The centrally-sponsored scheme of PM-KUSUM is also a non-starter in the state. A senior BREDA official confirmed to Saur Energy that the state currently has nothing to offer farmers in the name of solar irrigation. On the other hand, the agency offers additional state subsidies besides a central subsidy to urban households who want to install solar rooftops. 

Nevertheless, to tackle the issue of irrigation woes, the Bihar government has been on a spree to give higher subsidies on diesel and grid electricity to farmers to encourage them to use diesel pumps and grid power. According to the latest Economic Survey of Bihar (2022-23), Bihar spent around Rs 151 crore in subsidies to give diesel subsidies to around 10 lakh farmers in the state between July 2022 and November 2022 to tackle drought-like situations.

Shashi Bhushan Prasad, a farmer in Nalanda district cleans the solar panel of his solar pump. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Saur Energy

Shashi Bhushan Prasad, a farmer in Nalanda district cleans the solar panel of his solar pump. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Saur Energy

Under the scheme, farmers were given 10 liters of diesel for each hectare of land at Rs 75 per liter. The state also continued the scheme for 2023 with an allocation of Rs 100 crore.  Similarly, the Bihar government is also giving grid-electricity to farmers at a highly subsidised rates, upto 70 paisa per unit for agricultural usage, the latest Budget documents of the government show. State’s Economic Survey Report, issued in February this year said, Bihar has a total of 3.42 lakh agricultural connections.

Fate of solar pump users   

Notwithstanding several positive stories of off-grid solar pump users in Bihar, several other crippling issues are confronting the beneficiary users. Take the example of Shashi Bhushan Prasad, a farmer based in Gajendra Bigha village in Nalanda district who grows three crops in a year-mustard, paddy and maize with his 3HP off-grid solar pump. He claimed after a storm hit his solar pump, leading to its malfunction, it was never repaired, allegedly despite his following it up with the companies involved and written complaints to BREDA. Prasad said that such an apathetic attitude from the authorities led to losses of up to Rs 1.5 lakh due to a lack of timely irrigation.

 “Left with no option, I later invested from my pocket and got it repaired by spending around Rs 70,000. It was during the first five years of operations of the pump,” he added. However, as per the contract of BREDA with the EPC players and the tender documents, the EPC players were liable for the maintenance of these plants for the first five years. 

Suresh Prasad is another farmer from Tharthari D village in the same district. He also complained that his solar pump was never repaired after a storm damaged parts of his solar pump. An EPC company representative requesting anonymity said that as per the technical specifications of the tender, damages to solar pumps under some extreme weather events like heavy storms upto some speed are not covered for repair. However, the sordid tale is even more problematic after five years when the warranty and free repair coverage under the warranty expired. 

Ram Babu Singh, another farmer and beneficiary of the scheme based at Suhai village in Sitamarhi district, told Saur Energy that the local EPC firm representatives undertook some visits to the site for the first year. “After they got a paper of ‘consumer satisfaction’ signed, they hardly came to listen to my grievances later. I made several written complaints about the issue of low performance of the pump, but it all went in vain,” Singh said.  

Ground visits in the Nalanda and Sitamarhi districts of Bihar and interaction with beneficiary farmers also revealed more irregularities on the part of BREDA and the installers. Saur Energy witnessed some cases of unhealthy upkeep of solar panels by the users, its installation in partially shaded places, among others. A senior official from BREDA told Saur Energy that it had issued a booklet of user manuals on “do’s and don’ts” to its users.

However, none of the farmers we met on the ground talked about receiving any such awareness booklets. They indeed showed product details and warranty cards for solar pump components. 

Solar pumps comprise three main components: a solar panel, a controller and the DC Motor. Usually, the controller and motor are manufactured and sold by the players together. Some EPC players who were part of the project said that if the controller develops any snag, it delays the whole repair and replacement process due to the presence of selected manufacturers.

A defunct solar pump setup in Nalanda district. It was never repaired and revived after it was hit by a cyclone. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Saur Energy

A defunct solar pump setup in Nalanda district. It was never repaired and revived after it was hit by a cyclone. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Saur Energy


Interestingly, most of the farmers Saur Energy met whose solar pumps developed snag at any point in time said that the main problem often came either in the controllers or motors. In contrast, solar panels hardly created any problems in the whole system.

“There is a monopoly of some DC motors in India and whenever any problem came in those systems, repairing the same often took some extra time as the manufacturers were based in states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and other areas,” Patna-based Anal Prabhakar, Director of United Energy Limited, an EPC firm which worked in the scheme told Saur Energy. 

Post warranty woes  

The warranty period for the last off-grid solar pump users is now over. It has created another set of problems in a state like Bihar, which has a lower penetration of solar pumps than other states due to the lack of any state and central scheme. Per the norms, the onus is now on the end users who got the subsided solar pumps to repair the same in case it develops any snag. 

But there are multi-layered problems in this. It includes a dearth of trained workforce who can repair DC motors or other components of solar pumps beyond the state capital. There is also a lack of retail shops in the state selling solar pump components.

“Post-warranty-period service is an important part of the sustainability of solar pumps. However, there are several challenges to this. Due to a lack of awareness, the farmers are often unaware of where they can find the trained manpower to repair solar pumps. Second, there are hardly any controllers or DC motors retail outlets in Bihar, not even in the state capital. There is a lack of an organized supply chain in smaller cities in the state,” Amarnath Gupta, a solar service provider who was part of an EPC firm-Solex Energy, during the execution of the programme told Saur Energy.

He also pointed out the cost economics. He said that several farmers who got the subsidized solar pumps often found it tough to procure new components due to the higher costs. He said the combined package of a controller and DC motor in the market would cost anywhere close to Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000. 

Anas Rehman, Policy Advisor at the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD), told Saur Energy that “service issue post-warranty period” is key to the state’s wider adoption, popularity and viability of solar off-grid pumps.

“It is a very crucial aspect which decides the fate of the scheme and its success in any state. There are indeed fewer DC motor manufacturers. To make it a mass movement, we need post-sales service and other options like the availability of their local service centre or manpower. However, it is also true that the post-sales service will also thrive in states and regions with more product users. Bihar already has less penetration of off-grid solar pumps, he said.

Rehman also cited the example of Chhattisgarh, which has more than 1.5 lakh off-grid solar pumps through their state scheme. “If you see the Chhattisgarh model, they decide to offer off-grid solar systems only if the firms have their presence in that district. So now more than 110 companies are operating and giving service there, and that is why Chhattisgarh’s off-grid solar pump scheme seems to be doing well,” he added. 

Experts working on the issue claimed that compared to off-grid solar pumps, grid-connected solar pumps are a better option, both for the farmers as well as the state, in case the state incentives farmers to take steps towards judicial use of water through these pumps and solar energy produced from these solar pumps.

Deepak Varshney, Researcher at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), told Saur Energy that states like Gujarat offered special evacuation-based incentives to farmers for every extra unit of solar energy they injected into the grid. “Such incentives bolster the farmers to use water judiciously and offer the surplus energy to the grid. It ensures better returns to them at the end of the year, which they can use to boost their farming.”

A solar pump user in Ben shows his solar panel setup. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Saur Energy

A solar pump user in Ben shows his solar panel setup. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Saur Energy

Absence of PM-KUSUM and State Plan 

Despite several emails, phone calls and personal visits to BREDA, its Managing Director Mahendra Kumar did not respond to the queries on the issue. Principal Secretary of Bihar Energy Department Sanjeev Hans also did not reply to questions posed by Saur Energy on the issue. 

However, a senior official who was part of several of the state’s decision-making meetings on solar pumps, requesting anonymity, told Saur Energy, “The issue was raised at the Chief Secretary level meeting a few years ago. However, considering the impact of solar irrigation on the depleting groundwater levels in many areas, the scheme was stopped and even the idea of PM-KUSUM was dropped.”

When asked about the fate of farmers post-warranty period, he said, “They are free to do an Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC) with the manufacturers. They have expanded their network and I have seen some farmers doing AMC with them.” 

BREDA MD Mahender Kumar, meanwhile, after the closure of the solar irrigation scheme for farmers in the state, has announced the plan to opt out of the old off-grid mode and wants to go for more solarisation of feeders. Bihar, which has a poor record in transmission losses, has planned to rope in the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) funds for more solarisation of their agricultural feeders and to improve the health of its discoms and transmission network. 

Ashwin Gambhir, Fellow from Pune-based energy think tank Prayas (Energy Group) told Saur Energy that several states like Bihar are now shifting towards more solarization of their feeders, preferring this over the higher costs involved in giving highly subsidized off-grid solar pumpsets to farmers.

“These states are now focusing on solarization of entire feeders. It is a more reliable and better system for deploying more renewable energy into the grid. States like Maharashtra are giving developers, Gram Panchayats and DISCOMs special incentives/grants to ensure this is taken up rapidly. Maharashtra already has issued tenders for more than 3500 MW of solar feeder works,” Gambhir said.


The growth of renewable energy in Bihar had been a slow affair. Data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) claimed that by the end of September 2023, the state had only 420.26 MW of installed capacity of renewable power (excluding hydro). Higher subsidies for fossil-fuel dominated energy sources like diesel and grid electricity for farmers also seem to have worked against the growth of renewable energy in the farming sector.

Moreover, its reluctance for not adopting PM-KUSUM and supporting farmers in the state with off-grid solar pumps has kept the facility out of reach for the farmers now. It also led to less interest of solar pump companies to invest in the state, expand their services with more personnel, retail shops and post-sales services due to less users and lack of demand from the farmers. Now it will be interesting to see how the state’s proposed plan of solarisation of feeders can alter the scene here and help in decarbonising farming activities.  

(This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network)

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