Solar and other renewable energy-driven solutions have come to the center stage recently due to the growing sustainability concerns occasioned by the ever-growing global warming activities. It is from this perspective that I would like us to look at one of the most practical solar solutions in the form of a solar water pump.
Water is essential for human life, and access to clean water to a large extent, determines the quality of life of an individual as well as their susceptibility to disease and ill health. Solar water pumping systems have the distinct advantage of being perfectly suited for off-grid locations where most people still lack access to clean water.
One of the greatest hindrances to water distribution is lack of access to pumping power, especially in rural areas where both diesel and electricity may not be readily accessible. In this article, we will be looking at how a solar-powered water pumping system works.
The key components of a solar water pump are the photovoltaic panel, commonly known as the solar panel, which is the power supplier to the system. The power generated by the panel is used to power an electric motor, which converts the electricity into pressure used to pump water over a certain distance. Depending on the height and distance the water is intended to be pumped over, different motors of different capabilities are available in the market. Another key component is the control electronics that create a friendly user interface with the system and give additional functionalities for improved convenience.
1. Solar Panel
Usually, this should be the last component to acquire after determining how much power is needed to pump the water to the desired destination so that the right panels can be procured.
Typically, a solar system will be powered by several solar panels with the number to incorporate in each system being dependent on the amount of power it’s required to generate. A single panel is made of several photovoltaic cells averaging between sixty and seventy again, depending on the power requirement per panel.
The photovoltaic cells generate electricity by absorbing light energy from the sun, which knocks loose electrons in the silicon semiconductors they are made from. The silicon is treated in such a way as to create an electric field, which causes the electrons to move in one direction across the semiconductor, creating an electric current. The metal cells on the edge of each cell then capture the electricity and transfer the energy through a solar converter to the electric motor.
Two types of solar cells are available, namely monocrystalline and polycrystalline, which are differentiated by the number of crystals used to make them.
The monocrystalline cell is made from a single crystal, as the name suggests, while the polycrystalline is made from multiple crystals. The monocrystalline is more efficient but also more expensive. Again, the choice between these two will depend on the intended output as well as the budget available for the project.
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2. The water Pump
This is the component responsible for pumping water from the source to the desired destination. Several types of solar pumps exist differing in range, working mechanism as well as the location in relation to the water level. Some of the common types include the submersible water pumps and surface solar pumps. When it comes to the internal workings of the pumps, we have the centrifugal pump and the positive displacement pump, both of which work very well in a solar-powered water pumping system.
The Centrifugal pump consists of an impeller with blades rotating within an enclosed space known as the casing. Electricity from the solar panel is applied to rotate the impeller, which is at the center of the pump. As the impeller rotates, water is sucked in through the eye on one end of the casing and whirled around at high speeds in unison to the rotation of the impeller. This gives the water very high velocity and pressure as it leaves the diffuser on the other end of the casing, which in turn thrusts the water to the desired destination.
Depending on the desired pressure, different centrifugal pump systems are available, including the single-stage, two-stage and multi-stage, with the single-stage having a single impeller while the two stages have two impellers and the multi-stage having three or more impellers and being the most suitable for high-pressure requirements.
The positive displacement pump is made of a piston moving up and down a cylinder and powered by the electrical power coming from the solar panel. The upward movement traps a fixed volume of water in one end of the cylinder, and as the piston moves back down, forces the trapped water out under pressure on the other end of the cylinder.
3. The Control Electronics
This component is responsible for the efficient management of the entire solar water pumping system and is composed of different functionalities enabling the user to manage the system even from a distance. This includes aspects such as a pumping schedule management, flow rate control, and in recent times additional smart functionalities are available, including a notification system and an ability to link the system to a home computer or a mobile phone for even greater convenience.
Lastly, it is important to note while most solar powered systems do not require the use of batteries, where the system is required to work at night, batteries may be necessary to store the power generated by the solar panels for use at night when the panels are not generating more power. Where the pumps are only expected to work during the day, a storage tank might be useful as a last component to the system to ensure constant flow even at night when the pump is not working.