Philippines opens nation’s biggest solar-powered irrigation system

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The Philippines has inaugurated a solar-powered irrigation system in the province of Isabela, in the northeastern part of the country.

The PHP 65.7 million ($1.1 million) project was constructed between July 2023 and February 2024 and boasts more than 1,000 solar panels. It can produce 739,200 W of power for its two submersible pumps, with each pump capable of discharging 12,800 gallons (48453 liters) per minute.

Philippines President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said the project is the biggest solar-powered pump irrigation project in the country to date and could irrigate 350 hectares of rice fields, helping almost 237 farmers. Isabela is the biggest corn producer and the second-biggest contributor to palay production in the Philippines. 

“If we used to use oil-powered machines to flow water from irrigation canals to your fields, now we power it with electricity from sunlight. Free electricity from the sun so we can provide free irrigation,” said Marcos Jr at the inauguration ceremony. “Certainly because of the construction of this solar-powered pump irrigation project, in your barangay there will be a continuous flow of water in the irrigation systems, crops will be well taken care of, your harvests will increase, double to the product.” 

The project is the first in the Philippines to be constructed over an irrigation canal, meaning that the land cultivated by farmers will not be reduced. Marcos Jr said that 152 additional solar-powered pump irrigation projects are being constructed across the country, including 118 projects overseen by the government. He added that 82 solar irrigation projects have been completed and activated since 2023.

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Despite its resources, the Philippines faces significant water scarcity. Government estimates made earlier this year show that 40 million Filipinos do not have access to potable water. Marcos Jr has therefore called for a reorganization of water agencies in the country to respond to water-related challenges, including balancing water requirements for irrigation, household and industrial use in underserved areas.

The Philippines National Irrigation Administration began to ramp up investment in irrigation projects to improve water and energy supply in 2020. The association has accepted 15 solar powered pump irrigation projects and two small irrigation projects in the province of Isabela, which could irrigate another 251 hectares of farm lands and benefit 867 farmers, said Marcos Jr.

In October 2023, the country’s first canal-top solar irrigation project was commissioned.

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