Solar Water Pumping (All You Need To Know)

Water is life, and solar water pumping may be a way to harness that life in the future!

According to WWF, only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, and 2/3 of that is frozen into glaciers making it a critical natural resource with a high risk of scarcity in the coming years.  Currently, 1.1 billion people lack access to freshwater.

Conversely, a US citizen is utilizing on average more than 380 liters of clean water per day. This is compared to 75 liters per day in Ghana. Most of that is for showering (20%), toilet flushing (24%) or washing clothes/dishes (36%), and leaks (12%).

You might think that those figures are already pretty large, however, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If we break down the total freshwater consumption, we find out that:

  • 11% is for domestic use
  • 19% is for industrial use
  • 70% is for agricultural use

So this begs the question, where does solar water pumping come into play, and how can it benefit us in the long run?

Let’s see how we can combine solar energy and water pumping in a solar pumping system to get water anywhere on the planet.

Foreward
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What Is Solar Water Pumping?

Extracting water from a source (well, pond, river, storage tank…) using the sun as your energy supply is called solar water pumping.

Let’s see how we came up with this system after thousands of years of water pumping.

The water wells are first thought to be used 8000 years ago. At this time water extraction was purely mechanical, for example with buckets and ropes.

(Source: ETR Laboratories)

The first massive irrigation systems were developed by the Egyptians, more than 2700 years ago.

They took the form of an aqueduct. Aqueducts are man-made water channels, they take advantage of the difference in elevation between the source of water and its point of use (potential energy difference). This technique quickly shows its limits as it is dependent on the land’s elevation.

During the same period of time, the Egyptians invented the first pumping system, the Archimed screw pump (wrongly attributed to Archimed). A screw-shaped surface inside a pipe elevates the water when a rotary movement is applied.

Archimed’s screw pump, by Siberwolf

The energy needed to rotate the screw can originate from human strength, animals, or later, on motors powered by fossil fuels and electricity.

A Natural Source Of Energy To Power The Pump

Around 1000 years ago the world-famous Dutch windmill was the first system to use a natural source of energy for water pumping, the wind! This is wind-pumping.

More recently, in the second half of the 20th century, solar cells were developed. They take advantage of the photoelectric effect to convert the energy of the sun into electricity.

Tremendous scientific research efforts over the last 50 years have brought to the world, highly efficient solar panels, that are now proven to be reliable and durable energy production systems.

The Birth Of Solar Water Pumping

In the late ’70s, the first-ever reported solar pumping system was introduced, coupling solar panels with a DC water pump.

Solar pumping is a versatile technology that can be applied to domestic, agricultural, and industrial use.

Solar Water Pumping For Agricultural Irrigation

In recent years, solar pumps are gaining traction due to the non-availability of electricity, the high cost of fossil fuels, and the global demand increase for water.

Solar water pumps are one of the most promising applications of solar energy.

Irrigation mostly occurs during the dry season, i.e. Summertime, when solar irradiation is at its maximum intensity. Consequently, solar energy production is also at its peak and more water can be pumped.

(Solar pump for rice field irrigation in the Philippines, picture from the National Irrigation Administration)

Solar pumps are standalone systems, meaning they will operate with no connection to the electricity grid. Therefore, they are perfectly adequate for agricultural irrigation in remote areas.

Solar Water Pumping As A Circulation Pump For Domestic Use

If you have a campervan you might be familiar with the small circulation pump that brings water from the tank to your faucet.

This is a DC pump connected to your vehicle battery and you can run it completely on solar energy.

You can also equip your pool or pond with a solar-powered filtration pump.

You will find a handful of scientific literature showing that solar-powered water pumping systems are more reliable, and price competitive (cheaper!) compared to diesel water pumps for all use.


How Does Solar Water Pumping Work?

Your solar panel will transform the sun’s energy into electricity (DC), the electricity is then converted into mechanical energy by the motor of your DC water pump.

(Schematic representation of a solar-powered water pumping system, courtesy of World Bank Group)

Your solar pumping system consists of the following elements:

  • Solar panel array
  • Solar charge controller (MPPT type)
  • DC Water pump
  • Electrical safety equipment (fuse box, breakers)
  • Electrical wiring
  • Water storage (tank, cistern…)

You want to select them carefully to improve the overall efficiency of your solar water pump system Let’s take a deeper look into the components and choose the best one suited to your needs.

Don’t forget that your solar pumping system operates in DC (direct current) mode.

Choose The Most Efficient Solar Panel Array, Optimize Its Orientation, Avoid Shadowing

When operating solar pumps, you will use the sun as your energy source.

Our sun is beautiful, it is shinning all year long and offers an abundant source of energy everywhere on the planet. However, its intensity greatly varies during the course of the day, and also depends on climatic events (cloud, rain, snow).

The widely available silicon solar panels produce direct current (DC). They love direct sunlight, make sure that your solar panel is favorably oriented – the solar atlas provides useful information about your optimal tilting angle.

Choose A MPPT Solar Charge Controller

MPPT means Maximum Power Point Tracking This technology will help you to get the most out of your solar panel at all times.

The power of the sun varies during the day, and a cloud passing by could generate dramatic variation in your voltage and intensity output. This results in a difference between your solar panel output and the requirements of your DC water pump.

The MPPT will help solve this mismatch.

Choose A DC Water Pump

Avoid AC water pumps they will add complexity and reduce the total efficiency of your solar pumping system.

On the other hand, DC pumps are very efficient, on average they will use 50% less energy than AC pumps. Some models like the centrifugal pump have the ability to match the power output of your solar panel. Therefore, it will even operate in lower light conditions.

Store Your Water For On-Demand Use

Adding water storage capacities to your system is a must. You will gain flexibility and you will avoid installing batteries.

We advise you to install 2 to 3 days, worth of water. You could then use your water during the night and during cloudy/overcast days.

In the end, the performance of your solar pumping system will depend on the:

  • Solar radiation availability at your location
  • Total head elevation of your system
  • Flow of water needed
  • Total quantity of water to cover your needs per day

How Much Is A Solar Water Pump?

Solar water pumps are extremely versatile systems, they are scalable from the microcirculation pump of your campervan to the massive pumping stations to meet the needs of a city.

The price of your system will therefore vary. Below are some price indications for 3 main applications of solar water pumping:

Application of solar pump systemPower of the DC pump Power of the solar panel array Water pumping capacity per dayWater lift Price
Campervan circulation80 W100 W500 liters3-5 meters+200 USD
Domestic pool or water well500 W +600 W +2 to 60 m3Up to 50 meters+1500 USD
Industrial and agriculturalSeveral kWSeveral KW+100 m3+100 meters+10k USD

Most of the solar pump systems require low maintenance, several case studies have proved that those systems are economically viable compared to diesel pumping and even to grid-tied water pumps.

You might want to ask yourself the following questions in order to design the solar pumping system that will meet your needs and fit in your budget:

  • What quantity of water do I need everyday?
  • When do I need water?
  • What water flow/pressure do I need?
  • How many meters the water has to be lifted from the bottom of the source to the head of the storage tank? (this is the total dynamic head elevation)
  • What is the capacity of my storage tank?
  • What is the quality of my water (could it damage the pump?)

Let’s study some real-life cases to closely estimate the cost of a system.

The Camper Van

One of the smallest solar water pumping systems that you can design is for a camper van or a boat water circulation pump. The needs are limited to a few hundred liters per day at low pressure.

A typical water circulation pump is rated at 60W of power and can be powered by a 100-watt solar panel.

Below is an average price breakdown of the components:

Solar panel110 USD
DC water circulation pump30 USD
MPPT solar charger25 USD
Wiring, electrical safety equipment35 USD
Total200 USD
Cost estimation of solar water pumping for a camper van

For more comfort you might want to connect the solar pump to your battery, therefore you can use it at night and even charge the battery with the excess of electricity produced by your panel.

The Pool Pump

You can save (a lot of) money with a solar pool water pump!

Water filtration of a swimming pool is one of the most suitable applications for a solar pumping system.

  • Continuous operation is not needed
  • The quantity of water that will circulate everyday is fixed
  • Pumping is only needed during the day
  • The total head elevation rarely excess 2m
  • You will save money

Let’s take a look below at why you should switch to solar water pumping for your swimming pool.

For a 10 meters long, 5 meters wide, and 1.5 meters deep swimming pool (75 m3 ) it is recommended to have a pump capacity of 17m3/h. Usually, a regular AC water pump of 1.1Kw will do the job.

On average you need to filter the whole swimming pool every day. In our example, this would mean 5 working hours per day at full power of the pump.

DC solar pumps are 30% to 50% more efficient than their AC relatives.

Therefore, a 500W DC pump is the best for a swimming pool filtration pump. Depending on your location on the planet you might want to couple your DC pump with an 800W solar panel array.

For the same pump, you will need 700W of solar panel in Spain, 900W in Canada, and only 600W in California.

Below is an average price breakdown of the components :

6x Solar panel660 USD
500W DC pool pump690 USD
MPPT solar chargerIncluded in the dc pump kit
Wiring, electrical safety equipment100 USD
Mounting rail for solar panels150 USD
Total1600 USD
Cost estimation of solar water pumping for a swimming pool

Let’s see how much money you could save from switching to solar water pumping for your swimming pool.

 Regular AC grid tided pool pumpDC Solar pumping system
Running time per day5 hours5 hours+ (depending on weather conditions)
Max. power of the pump1.1 kW0.5 kW
Energy consumed per day5.5 kWh2.5 kWh
Cost of operation per day (25.59cents/kWh) California May 20221.41 USD0 USD
The compared operational cost of AC grid-tied swimming pool pump and DC solar pumping system for a swimming pool in California

If we consider the cost of the solar energy production system alone around 850 USD. The payback time of the solar water pumping system is less than 2 years.

Given the fact that your solar panels will produce for more than 25 years, you will actually save more than 10,000 USD over the lifetime of your panels!

The Deep Well Pump

Deep well pumping is the most common way to harvest water for daily human use. Solar water pumping will perform well for domestic, industrial, and agricultural well pumping.

You might want to equip your system with a water cistern that has2 to 3 days worth of consumption in case of bad weather that would reduce the global output of your system.

Let’s see what the cost would be of a solar pumping system to meet the needs of a family of 4 people.

A family of 4 people will consume on average 1 m3/day of freshwater. A 500W DC pump will cover the daily needs.

If the well is 30 meters deep and the domestic cistern 15 meters high from the surface, a typical domestic solar pump system will exhibit a flow of 10L/min.

Therefore the solar pump could only run 100 min every day at full power to meet the needs of the family.

Our energy source is the sun, the sunlight power will vary during the day consequently the power output (and the water flow) will also fluctuate.

In California, 600W of solar panels will cover your daily needs. Let’s break down the cost of your domestic solar water pumping system:

6x Solar panel660 USD
500W deep well pump600 USD
MPPT solar chargerIncluded in the dc pump kit
Wiring, electrical safety equipment100 USD
Mounting rail for solar panels150 USD
Total1510 USD
Cost estimation of solar water pumping for a domestic deep well

Let’s see how much money you could save with a deep well solar pump:

 Regular AC grid tided pumpDC Solar pumping system
Running time per day1.6 hours1.6 hours+ (depending on weather conditions)
Max. power of the pump1.1 kW0.5 kW
Energy consumed per day1.76 kWh0.8 kWh
Cost of operation per day (25.59cents/kWh) California May 20220.45 USD0 USD
The compared operational cost of AC grid-tied well pump and DC solar pumping system for domestic water use

If we consider the cost of the solar energy production system alone around 850 USD. The payback time of the solar water pumping system is 5 years.

Given the fact that your solar panels will produce for more than 25 years, you will actually save more than 2,500 USD over the lifetime of your panels.

Note that the daily capacity production of the solar pump exceeds the needs of the family – this system could produce on average up to three times more. Extra water can be used for garden cultivation for example.

How High Can A Solar Pump Lift Water?

A 500W DC solar pump will commonly exhibit total dynamic pump head values of 80m to 100m.

The DC water pump is one of the main elements of your solar pumping system. DC water pumps are highly efficient systems (50% more efficient than the AC pump).

Like every water pump, their water flow is closely related to the pumping elevation. This is a critical parameter for deep well pumping.

Manufacturers commonly use the total dynamic pump head (TDH) to rate their systems.

To calculate your total dynamic pump head, you will need to know:

  • The static head – distance between the depth of your water pump to the top of your water tank)
  • The friction loss, related to the loss in pressure due to the friction of your water in your pipes. This is closely related to the length, the diameter and the configuration of your piping system (elbow, curves…). Estimate your friction loss here.

For example, static head: 30 meters underground + 10 meters above the ground = 40 meters

Friction loss in 32mm pipe: 15m

Your total pump head is therefore 55m.


What Are The Best Solar Water Pumps?

DC pumps are the best pumps for a solar water pumping system. They are 50% more efficient than the AC water pump. Your best choice will be a DC centrifugal pump, let’s see why:

The main body part of your DC pump is built using high-quality low lead marine grade bronze and stainless steel. It is designed to be corrosion-free and to require low maintenance.

We can classify the solar water pumps into 3 types depending on their applications:

  • Submersible, for deep well.
  • Surface for shallow well, ponds, river, spring source, tank and in-line or floating pumps.
  • Floating or in line pumps for applications that doesn’t require a high lift, like water filtration in swimming pool, water circulation for a pond or in a house. 

DC water pumps are divided into 2 main groups based on their operation principle:

  • Centrifugal pump
  • Positive displacement pump

A positive displacement pump will use a set of pistons and diaphragm to force a specific quantity of water in a chamber and expulse it at the end of the outlet. They require more maintenance than the centrifugal pump.

Centrifugal pumps use a spinning impeller to force the water into the pipe, they can match their power with the output of your solar panel. They will still operate under low light conditions.


How Can I Get A Subsidy For A Solar Water Pump?

Solar water pumping is economically more viable over the long term than grid-tied water pumping. It does however require an extra investment compared to a regular system. This is mainly due to the cost of the solar panel.

India is one of the only countries promoting the installation of solar pumps for agricultural irrigation and offering subsidies to finance the system.

If you cannot get a grant for your solar water pump, you might still need public assistance to purchase your solar panels. Numerous countries offer incentives, in the form of preferential feed-in tariffs, or tax exemptions when you install solar panels at home.


Can You Run A Water Pump With Solar?

A solar panel array can run a water pump. The DC electricity produced by the solar panel will power a DC water pump.

The first system was introduced in the ’70s, the technology is now widely used in remote areas where there is no grid connection. The ever-decreasing price of solar panels is making solar water pumping technology accessible to all.

Systems can be designed from the smallest capacity circulation pump to the swimming pool filtering solar pump and even industrial systems for massive irrigation. 

Your solar pumping system will also operate differently compared to grid-tied AC pumping, as the sun is an intermittent source of energy its power fluctuates during the day. Consequently, the water flow of your water pump will also vary.


Can Solar Power Run A Well Pump?

Solar power can run any type of well pump.

There are 2 types of wells:

  • Shallow or surface well (up to 20 meters depth)
  • Deep well (more than 20 meters depth)

The submersible DC pump is the best for a deep well, it can lift water to high elevation yet with a strong flow.

Choose a surface pump for a shallow well.


How Deep Can A Solar Pump Work?

Solar water pumps for domestic use can work as deep as 100m, but they will perform better at depth of 30m. Keep in mind that the water flow is closely related to the depth of operation.

The deeper you need to pump the lower your water pressure will be.

Manufacturers usually provide the water flow of their system at different total pump head elevations.


5 Benefits Of Solar Powered Pumps

Here are the 5 benefits of a solar-powered water pump

  1. They don’t require electricity grid connection (stand alone systems)
  2. You will save a lot of money while operating them (cost competitive)
  3. Solar pumps are versatile and maintenance free (from micro pumping to industrial/agricultural irrigation systems)
  4. They are more eco-friendly as you will operate them with 100% renewable energy
  5. They are energy efficient (up to 50% more efficient than an AC pump)

What Are The Best Solar Water Pump Kits For Fountains?

Fountains and ponds do not only bring peace and harmony to your garden, they also boost the biodiversity by providing a source of water for insects, birds and other animals.

Thanks to solar water pump kits, you can now easily install a fountain in your garden in a blink of an eye.

Let’s have a closer look at what you get when buying a solar fountain kit.

Solar fountain kits have few components:

  • DC solar water pump
  • Solar panel
  • Electrical connectors
  • Water fittings and nozzles

As an option some kits might also offer battery backup.

To choose the best solar fountain, first look at the solar pump power:

For bird bath and small basin: 2-10 watts is best

For ponds and fish tank: 15 – 100 watts is adequate

Best solar fountain kit for bird bath

Gocheer 2022 Solar Fountain

The Gocheer solar fountain has a very clever design, the solar panels are built-in and cover all the top of the fountain, the battery is embedded in the fountain.  

Solar fountain by Gocheer

This solar fountain for bird bath is a ready-to-use kit, it floats on top of the water, and will work 3-4h with no sun thanks to the built-in battery. Depending on the power of the sun, your fountain height will vary between 10 and 60 cm.  

Pros
  • Compact design
  • Ready to use
  • 7 different nozzles
  • Built-in-battery for cloudy days
Cons
  • Pump needs to be cleaned regularly
  • Can spray water out of the bassin
  • Less than 2 years of life service

In short

A great ready-to-use solar fountain for bird bath that will work even during cloudy days thanks to its built-in battery. Be sure to have a large basin to avoid water spillage and expose your solar fountain to full sun to maximize the water flow.

Best solar fountain kit for ponds

Solariver™ Solar Water Pump Kit 900

Solariver is a US company that was created from a small landscaping business. Based on their field experience they offer reliable and powerful systems from solar fountains for bird bath to solar pump for livestock.

70W Solar water pump kit by Solariver

We are highlighting their 35 watts solar water pump kit that includes:

  • 2 solar panels of 35 watts each
  • 35W submersible DC water pump
  • Flexible tubes, nozzle, wirings and connectors

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Adequate number of solar panels
  • Strong flow (900Gal/H)
  • Easy to install
  • Two solar panels
  • 16ft of flexible tubing
  • 5 years’ service life if operated 12 hours per day
Cons
  • Pricey
  • No battery included

In short

This solar pump kit is perfect for larger ponds (circulation and fountain), DIY solar waterfalls and aquaculture. It moves large quantity of water, with a flow of up to 900Gal/h. In addition, thanks to the two solar panels the pump will even work at low light.


Final Thoughts

If you are cultivating a vegetable garden, you certainly know that your harvest yield increases when watering the plants. Indeed, irrigated agriculture will produce on average 2 times more than rainfed agriculture (for the same plot size).

Currently, only 20% of the total cultivated land is irrigated, and it produces 40% of the global food stock.

Water is therefore the most critical input for agriculture and its consumption is expected to largely increase, as agricultural production is forecasted to expand by 70% by 2050, together with population growth.

Water and energy are closely related. Through hydropower (in man-made dams or in a river flow), water can help us produce clean energy. Conversely, energy is required to extract water from a well.

One source of energy is available on every part of the planet, this is the Sun!

We might not all have a deep well in our garden, however, lots of our readers own a swimming pool, and solar pumping for pool filtering is probably one of the most economically viable applications of the solar pump.

We recommend you convert to solar water pumping now!

Romain Metaye

Romain Metaye

Dr Metaye has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Ecole Polytechnique, France. He is a renewable energy expert with more than 11 years of experience within the research world. During his career, he supervised more than 150 projects on clean energy. Off-grid smart systems, solar energy, battery and the hydrogen economy are among his specialties.

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MUHAMMAD ADAMU SHUAIBU

I really like to have this water pump, but I don’t know how and where can I buy it .

Olivia Smart

Thank you for explaining how a solar water pump works. I’ve been wondering how one might work if we were to get one for our property. It seems like it is a pretty efficient system.

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