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Solar power helps farmers in Attapeu save on electricity payments

Solar energy is one of the best alternatives for green power that is environmentully¬† friendly, and Phouvong district of Attapeu province is forging ahead in the race to use the sun’s rays to power an irrigation system.
The owner of Internet Trade of Import-Export Company and the head of the solar project in Phouvong, Mr Sengsamoud Noraseng, said he began working on the project in Naxeuk area of Khamvongsa village in 2018 and plans to complete it in 2020.
His project with a capacity of 50 KW will pump water from a river in the district for use in rice fields and farms in Khamvongsa village. The project will cost more than 900 million kip.

Pipes take water from the pumping machine to the irrigation channel before it is supplied to the rice fields of Phouvong district.

“Since we began work on building the solar project, we also did a pilot project to test our solar installation system to work with electricity from hydro-power projects. Seventy percent of our main project is complete and it can save a lot of the money local farmers spend on fees for using electricity from the state,” he said.
He added, “During the pilot project for the dry rice season from November 2018 to 2019, when there was a natural disaster in the province, the cost of using hydroelectricity for 40 hectares of rice fields was more than 28 million kip for the whole dry season. For one hectare, a farmer was paying an average of 600,000 kip to 700,000 kip for the dry season.
“After using solar power from our pilot project, the cost of electricity was reduced to 8 million kip, or a farmer had to pay only 100,000 kip to 200,000 kip for each hectare.”
The government also has a policy for farmers in the province to pay half the electric tariff, meaning the cost of 28 million kip was half the actual fee of more than 56 million kip.
Mr Sengsamoud said, “As the use of solar power helps reduce the huge fees for hydro-power, the provincial leadership has injected more than 800 million kip for a project to increase the capacity of our installation from 50 KW to 100 KW. Therefore, our project is a model project for the province as well as the country.”
He said 50 KW of solar power is enough to drive pumps to supply water to more than 20 hectares of rice fields, and the solar system has a life of more than 20 years, and farmers can use water from it for all this time for their rice fields, other crops and even fish ponds.
However, the solar system has limited capacity when the weather is not good, such as days with dark skies or when clouds cover the sun. “But through the pilot project, we saw that there were not more than 10 days a month with bad weather or dark skies,” he said.
He said, “Farmers in the district are happy to know that they will not pay a high cost for electricity and that they will not pay fees anymore because the solar system requires a one-time investment and can be use over the years. One only needs to replace some equipment when it is broken. Importantly, many farmers have now agreed to return to planting rice in the dry season after joining the solar pilot project with a low payment.”
The Deputy Governor of Phouvong district, Mr Soulichan Xokkhamchan, said that two years ago, many farmers didn’t want to work on their rice fields in the dry season. After the district discussed ways to reduce the cost of electricity needed for planting rice in the dry season with the head of the solar project, the cost of energy was cut from 800,000 kip per hectare while using only hydro-power. The pilot project could pump only 80 litres per second using the solar system, while the figure reached 180 litres per second while using hydro-power.
“Through the output of the pilot project, many farmers were happy to return to planting rice in all of their fields. Then, our provincial leader agreed to inject more funds to increase its capacity to 100 MW, and this project will be a model that will be extended to other districts,” he said.
He added, “Now, our district has only 2,800 hectares of rice fields in 15 villages during the dry season, and we have only one irrigation system in Khamvongsa village. The village has 80 hectares of rice fields but the farmers can plant rice in only 50 hectares because irrigation system cannot reach all the areas.” After authorities in other districts heard about the low tariffs of the pilot project using the solar system, they too have expressed an interest in installing similar systems in their areas. But he said they have to wait to see some more results of the solar system before making a final decision.
He said local farmers in the district currently have debts of over 180 million kip for using electricity supplied by the government. Using a solar system will be one of the solutions that can help local farmers cut their costs in electricity.
The deputy head of the agriculture and forestry office of the district, Mr Sisouk Siphomma, said since the authorities began operating the irrigation system in Khamvongsa village in 2000, the farmers have had to pay a lot of money for using electricity and they now owed more than 100 million kip.
“So, the solar project is good for our farmers, as they will not only pay less money but they can also plant other crops all year round. However, we also have to help to provide more information about using the solar system when there is strong sunlight and the system can fully pump water. The farmers are usually in a rush to collect as much water as they can stock or direct supply to their agricultural land,” he said.
A farmer from Khamvongsa village, Mr Ko Xayavong, 39, said: “This dry season, I started to work on nearly one hectare and I paid only 100,000 kip for electricity for the whole season. I am happy to pay a lower price and in the next year, I plan to plant rice on more hectares and earn more income for my family.”
Another farmer from Khamvongsa village, Mr Muan Xayachang, 55, said, “I stopped planting rice in the dry season many years ago because I could not pay the high cost of electricity. I gave the rice field of more than a hectare to my relative on rent. After I heard many farmers in the village had returned to planting rice again, I too want to go back to planting rice from next year because it is very cheap to pay for the electricity now. I know the head of my village harvested 80 bags of paddy rice and one bag weighs 30 kg and it can be sold for 130,000 kip per bag. So, even I can earn more income than I used to before.”

By Panyasith Thammavongsa
(Latest Update June 20, 2019

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