Solar Water Pumps and Systems | Efficient, Simple & Reliable

Solar Water Pumps and Systems for Wells, Irrigation and Livestock

The sun is the natural source of energy for an independent water supply. Solar water pumps and systems operate anywhere that the sun shines, and the longer it shines, the more water they pump. When its cloudy, they pump less water, but often you need less water when it is cloudy.

Photovoltaic modules, the power source for solar water pump systems, have no moving parts, require no maintenance and last for decades. A properly designed solar water pumping system will be efficient, simple and reliable. Solar water pump systems operate on direct current, (the Shurflo 9300 solar water pump operates at 24v, the Grundfos SQflex solar water pump for wells operate as high as 300VDC).

The output of the solar power system varies throughout the day and with changes in weather conditions. The nature of variable electricity in the form of direct current (DC) is quite different from conventional, steady alternating (AC) current from the utility grid or a generator. To use solar energy economically, the solar water pump system must utilize the long solar day, drawing a minimum of power. This means pumping more slowly than conventional pumps. Pumping at rates of less than 6 gpm requires different mechanisms from the conventional (centrifugal) pumps.

Small submersible solar water pumps are unique, both electrically and mechanically. The most efficient solar water pumps for wells are “positive displacement” pumps. They pump a certain amount of water with each rotation. If it is cloudy or early morning, the solar water pump will receive less energy and run more slowly. A positive displacement pump will pump approximately half as much water with half as much energy. Conventional AC pumps are usually centrifugal pumps that spin at a high speed to pump as many gallons per minute as possible. They also consume a large amount of power which can be illustrated by the size of the inverter required to power different sized AC pumps. If you run a centrifugal pump at half speed, it pumps one quarter the pressure. Their efficiency is very low at low speeds and when pumping against high pressure.

If your water sources are remote from power lines, add up your long-term costs of fuel and repairs on generators, or the cost of utility line extensions. Now consider the savings with a solar water pump system that needs attention only once every 2 to 20 years depending on the model.


Solar powered water pumps can provide an equal volume of water per day without the high and inefficient energy demands of a large capacity AC pump. Instead of pumping a large volume of water in a short time and turning off, the solar water pump works slowly and efficiently all day. Often a solar water pump specifcally for wells will work fine in a well with a recovery rate too slow for a conventional AC pump.

TheSolarStore.com suggests that for solar water pumps for wells go to Submersible Pumps Category below. For booster pumps to increase pressure from cistern or tank see Surface pumps.

 

 
Can I use the sun to power a pump?
Any renewable energy source can make the electricity you need to power appliances, including pumps.  Solar electric cells convert sunlight into DC electricity that can be routed directly to DC appliances, or can be stored in batteries for use when the sun is not shining, or can be inverted into AC electricity to power AC appliances.
 
Solar well pumping generally refers to the use of sunlight to power pumps, while the sun is shining.   These are simple systems that do not incorporate batteries for storing electricity.  In essence, the water tank or cistern acts as storage.  If you can pump water fast enough and your cistern is big enough, then you do not need to pump during the night or during cloudy days.
 
Batteries are generally not necessary in remote water pumping situations, as long as your system is sized properly and you have enough water flow from the water source.
 
Is solar water pumping economically feasible?
The reliability and economy of solar electric power make it an excellent choice for powering remote water pumping.  Cattle ranchers all over the world are enthusiastic solar pump users.  Their water sources are often spread over many miles of rangeland where utility power is not accessible and where refueling and maintenance costs are high for generator use.
If your water source is more than 1/3 mile from utility power, solar is a favorable economic choice.  This fact is substantiated by a number of rural electric cooperatives across the U.S.  These co-ops actively promote use of solar pumps because the cost to extend new power lines is prohibitive.
 
Where do solar pumping systems work?
Solar panels should be located in a sunny spot where no shading occurs.  Altitude is not a factor, but height off the ground will affect whether or not you are able to keep them clear of snow.
 
Panels should be angled optimally for solar gain, particularly during the shorter winter days.  If your site is in the northern hemisphere you should point your panels to true south.  The reverse is true for places in the southern hemisphere.  For many locations there is quite a difference between magnetic south and true south, so you should consult a declination map before setting your mounting structure.
 
The solar panels should be tiled up from horizontal to get a better angle at the sun and to help shed rain and snow.  For best year round power output, with the least amount of maintenance, you should face the solar panel(s) true south at a tilt angle equal to your latitude with respect to the horizontal position.
 
If you are able to adjust the solar panel seasonally, a good rule of thumb is:
•Latitude minus 15 degrees in the summer
•Latitude in the spring/fall
•Latitude plus 15 degrees in the winter
 
Solar Water Pumping Overview

The sun is the natural source of energy for an independent water supply. Solar pumps operate anywhere the sun shines. While energy production from solar pumps is impacted by cloudy weather, having adequate water storage and decreasing water needs during cool or rainy weather mitigates these impacts.

Solar water pumping systems operate on direct current (DC) or in the case of the Grundfos SQflex pump both DC and AC can be used. The output of the solar power system varies throughout the day and with changes in sunlight intensity and weather conditions, requiring specialized pumps and controls that operate within a wider range of voltage and current compared to most AC pumps.

Conventional AC pumps are usually centrifugal pumps that spin at a high speed to pump as many gallons per minute as possible.

They also consume a large amount of power and their efficiency suffers at low speeds and when pumping against high pressure. If you run a centrifugal pump at half speed, it pumps one quarter of the volume.

To minimize the size of the solar PV system required, solar pumps generally use more efficient motors and pumping mechanisms.

The most efficient pumps are “positive displacement” pumps, which pump a fixed amount of water with each rotation. If it is cloudy or early morning, the pump will receive less energy and run more slowly, but with no loss of efficiency—so at half speed, it simply pumps half the amount of water at the same pressure.

To use solar energy economically, solar pumping systems typically pump more slowly than conventional well pumps (many solar pumps are designed to produce less than 6 gallons per minute) and they don’t run at all between sunset and sunrise, so an adequately sized storage tank is usually required. Solar powered water pumps can provide an equal volume of water per day without the high and inefficient energy demands of a large capacity AC pump. Instead of pumping a large volume of water in a short time and then turning off, the solar water pump works slowly and efficiently all day. Often a solar pump can be used in a well with a recovery rate too slow for a conventional AC pump.

If your water sources are remote from power lines, compare the cost of a low-maintenance solar pumping system to what you would spend on a generator, with continual fuel and maintenance costs, or on a utility power-line extension. In most cases, a good solar pumping system is far more economical, which is why many non-profits and NGOs use solar pumping to provide clean water to remote villages around the world.

Submersible Pumps

If you are pumping from a well, we have solar pumps that can deliver from 1 gallon per minute to over 75 gpm.

The SHURflo 9300 solar water pump and the Sunpumps solar water pump can be powered by a PV array as small as two 50 to 100 W solar modules, or a single larger 60-cell or 72-cell module depending on the “head” (vertical distance or elevation change) they are pumping. They can pump 500 to 1,000 gallons per day and lift water 200 feet. These pumps require service every 2 to 4 years.

If you have a higher lift, need more water, or want a pump that does not require service for 15 to 20 years, the Grundfos SQFlex solar water pump is a good choice. The SQFlex can lift water over 800 feet and can pump over 20,000 gallons per day at lower lifts. The SQFlex pump can be powered by solar modules, a wind generator, a fuel powered generator, an inverter, the utility grid, or a combination of several of these.

For more information on the components and system design help of solar submersible water pumping please see our Submersible Solar Water Pumping FAQ page.

Surface Pumps

Surface pumps are typically less expensive than submersible pumps and can draw water from a spring, pond, river, or tank, and push it far uphill and through long pipes to fill a storage tank or to pressurize it for home use or for irrigation, livestock, etc. The pump may be placed at ground level, or suspended in a well in some cases. For trouble free operation, low energy use and 15 year life span we recommend the Dankoff series solar pumps. The Dankoff Flowlight Booster pumps are perfect for pressurizing water in an off grid home, while the Dankoff Solar Slow Pumps can move water at extrenmely low energy requirements.

All pumps are better at pushing than pulling, since the vacuum a pump can draw is limited to atmospheric pressure (about 14 psi). At sea level, a pump can be placed no higher than 10 or 20 feet above the surface of the water source (subtract one foot per 1,000 feet elevation). Most wells are much deeper than this and therefore require a submersible pump, which can push the water up to the surface.

Suction piping for surface-type pumps must be oversized a bit and not allow air entrapment (much like a drain line) and should be as short as possible.

Pumps can push water very long distances through a pipe. The vertical lift and flow rates are the primary factors that determine power requirements.

Water Storage and Pressurization

Many conventional AC powered water systems pump from a well or other water source into a pressure tank that stores water and stabilizes the pressure for household use. When you turn on water in the house, an air-filled bladder in the tank forces the water into the pipes. When the pressure drops, a pressure switch turns on the pump, refilling and re-pressurizing the tank. This works because an AC pump delivers high volume and pressure on demand; however, this will not work with pumps operating directly from PV modules because the sun may not be shining when you want to take a long hot shower.

For pumps operating directly from PV modules, a non-pressurized water tank or cistern is used to store water for usage during times when the sun is not shining. If the tank can be located above the house on a hill or on a tower, gravity can supply the water pressure.

Please see our FAQ page on the pros and cons of using pressure tanks versus open cistern or tanks.

Pressure in psi = head (in feet) x 0.433, or

Head (in feet) x 2.31 = psi.

For reasonable pressure, the tank needs to be at least 40 feet above the house, although to obtain a pressure of 30 psi will require about 70 feet of elevation.

Alternatively, a DC or AC pressure booster pump such as the Dankoff Flowlight Booster Pump, powered from a battery or inverter, can be used to maintain a pressure tank as needed from a storage tank that is filled by a solar pump during the day. You must use a pressure pump that can deliver the maximum flow rate required by the house, or have a pressure tank that is large enough to make up the difference between what the pressure pump can deliver and what is required for as long as it may be required. This is called the “draw down volume” of the pressure tank.

Calculation of Solar Power Needs

If you are using a pump driven directly by PV modules, the array’s nameplate output should be at least 20% higher than the power required by the pump to achieve the desired head and flow rate. A larger array or a tracking system can maximize the power available to the pump, providing more gallons per day.

Since the pump will only draw the power it needs, it will not be damaged by oversizing the array. A larger array will produce the needed power in less light, extending the pumping time and volume delivered in the morning, afternoon, and on cloudy days. For instance, a 1 kW array will produce 200 W in 1/5 the amount of sunlight that you would get on a sunny day at noon.

Designing a Solar Pumping System

The Solar Store carries many types of pumps that can be used in a variety of applications. Which pump and related equipment are needed for a solar pumping system depends on many factors, including what the water source is, how much water is needed, when the water is needed, how far the water source is from another power source, etc.

If the well or other water source is close to an existing source of power, such as the utility grid or the power system of an off-grid house, it’s usually better to power the pump from that existing source rather than set up a dedicated PV array.

If grid power is available, it can be used to power a water pump, and if desired, a grid-tied PV system can be installed to offset the cost of the grid power.

In off-grid situations, if the well or other water source is close to the house’s off-grid power system, it’s usually easier to power the pump using the house’s power system, either directly from the battery bank with DC, or with AC from the inverter. Additional PV modules may be needed to accommodate the pump’s power requirement, but they can be added to the house’s PV system and used to help charge the batteries when the pump isn’t running,

The Solar Store is happy to help you design a pumping system, but please have the following information ready when you call or email:

  • Flow rate required in Gallons per minute or gallons per day. Including both summer and winter requirements.
  • Recharge rate of the well.
  • Static water level in the well.
  • Final delivery point of the water e.g open cistern or pressure tank.
  • Any additional vertical and horizontal distance to final delivery point for the water measured from the well head.
  • The location of the well i.e. zip code

Flow rate required: Total amount of water, on average, needed per day. This is gallons per day or gpd. Because solar pumps deliver water in variable amounts due to the variable nature of sunlight, you will need to know the total daily water need. Any seasonal changes in water requirements also need to be considered.

Total head that the pump has to lift. This is the actual elevation difference between the water level in the well (or other water source) and the top of the storage tank. This is not just the length of the water line, although internal pipe friction needs to be considered if the distance is great or the pipe is small.

Solar insolation at the site: Local insolation data can be obtained using PV Watts (online)  Any shading of the potential array needs to be taken into account, along with seasonal variations.

More info, such as well casing diameter, water quality, well regeneration capacity, etc., may also be needed


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