Solar-powered Irrigation in Ethiopia

Project Team

Team profile by members of the Strategies for Energy, Water and Agriculture in Rural Ethiopia project team

Access to electricity is a major developmental goal because of the role it plays in the well-being and economic success of a community. In Ethiopia, only 29% of the rural population currently has access to electricity, but the government aims to provide universal electricity access to its citizens by 2025. Minigrids are independent power systems that provide electricity to remote communities that are not connected to the national grid, and they are a key tool in achieving this goal in a fast, low-cost way.

Solar-powered minigrid

Electric irrigation powered by small-scale renewables can help farmers improve their agricultural output while reducing reliance on unpredictable rain-fed farming and expensive, unreliable diesel pumps. With the Ethiopian government and other stakeholders, our team worked to understand how solar minigrid powered irrigation can provide rural communities with more resilient agricultural systems and affordable electricity, and power more productive economies.

Our goal was to determine the economic viability and resource sustainability of mini-grid powered irrigation in Ethiopia, and to understand key factors that contribute to the viability at a particular site. We analyzed 10 pilot sites in Ethiopia to determine if mini-grid powered irrigation generates enough energy demand to make it economically viable. We also investigated the sustainability of withdrawing water at the projected levels at each site.

The eight undergraduate and graduate students split into three sub-teams that each worked toward a different aspect of this goal.

Breakeven Cost of Electric Irrigation for a Farmer

The first team improved an existing model of the breakeven cost for mini-grid powered irrigation and carried out a sensitivity analysis to determine which factors are most important to determine the economic viability of a site. They analyzed the relationship between the amount of water input and the crop yield, and incorporated additional site-specific variables into the model.

Of the 47 characteristics they looked at, they found that the number of fruit crops, as opposed to vegetable crops, and the average size of the farms were most important to determining a site’s viability. They also found that using drip irrigation, instead of furrow, can improve the attractiveness of sites, especially those with fruit crops.

The second team focused on mapping the availability of water as a resource across the country. Using existing data and GIS tools, they mapped the amount of water that is currently available in reservoirs. Using the same tools, they also determined the rate at which this groundwater is replenished in each area. Together, these data enable an analysis of water availability at each site.

Map of Groundwater Recharge in Ethiopia

The third team brought these pieces together into a dynamic simulation model. The model calculates the net present value of a mini-grid system at a site to determine if it is economically viable. It also uses the second group’s water availability calculation and the rate of withdrawal from the irrigation system to calculate the amount of water available at the site over time, to determine if that level of water withdrawal is sustainable.

By analyzing economic and water resource sustainability, our team was able to determine the viability of each mini-grid site and make concrete recommendations towards effective management strategies.

Our work will be built upon by the Ethiopian government and other stakeholders as they work to implement minigrid powered irrigation at the pilot sites, and eventually expand across the country.

Strategies for Energy, Water and Agriculture in Rural Ethiopia

Poster by Autumn Burton, Indraneel Dharwadkar, Kalkidan Kebede, Yiyan Ma, Sarah Macia, Marie McNamara, Jennie Wang, Sagar Shah, Justin Baker, Robert Fetter, Marc Jeuland and Jonathan Phillips

Research poster.