Semarang – The application of solar power plants (PLTS) is increasingly being looked at to overcome the problems that arise from using diesel pumps in agriculture. In the past two years, rice farmers in Central Java have begun to massively utilise solar energy to irrigate non-irrigated rice fields to prevent crop failure during the dry season.
In Krincing Village, Secang Subdistrict, Magelang District, farmers were amazed to see pumps without diesel power able to lift water from the Elo Bogowonto River. This is despite the river being 40-50 metres below their fields, a distance of about 400 metres.
“The villagers said I was crazy, wanting to lift water from Elo without diesel. Wow, the village head is crazy. But I’m sure it’s possible,” said Heri Purwanto, the village head of Krincing, who initiated solar energy in 2019.
The former sand truck driver said that building solar irrigation in his village was like gambling on his good name. With IDR 600 million or around USD 40,000 in village funds, he was desperate to allocate IDR 350 million (USD 23,150) to build a project without a clear direction.
“Out of 80 hectares, 15 have water shortages during the dry season. There is provincial irrigation, but the water does not reach our village because the gate is far away in Soropadan, Temanggung. It is five kilometres away from Krincing,” he said.
According to Purwanto, the previous village head had also drawn Elo water using a diesel pump, but it only lasted one month because of the high cost. From that experience, he became interested in reading renewable energy articles on the internet.
When there was an agricultural exhibition in Temanggung Regency, Purwanto rushed there. He found a stall displaying solar panels with a capacity of 100 watts peak. If you can light a lamp, you can pump water, he thought. It does, but it’s only a small pump.
“Then I asked, if the panels are combined and given a large pump, can you do it? I bet on it, I was desperate. I also told the distributor if the water goes up, we will pay; if it doesn’t go up we won’t pay. Because we use village funds,” he said.
After a village meeting, Purwanto finally decided to build solar irrigation. A total of 64 solar panels, each with a capacity of 100 watts peak off-grid, were purchased from a distributor in Surabaya. The panels were imported from Germany, costing Rp 2 million (USD 132). He also bought a large water pump for Rp 90 million (USD 5,950).
“We had a meeting at the village office. We want to build this for the benefit of farmers. There was no rejection, but many doubted whether it could be done. If you can do it, please go ahead, Pak Lurah (village head),” said Purwanto, recounting the situation at the village meeting.
The 6-metre x 8-metre solar panels were installed on village land 200 metres away from the reservoir. The installation of the solar panels took only two days. But the construction of the reservoir took two months.
According to Purwanto, the total electricity from the solar panels is 6,400 watts peak. Based on calculations, this is enough power to irrigate 70-80 hectares. Gradually, the solar panels have irrigated 15 hectares in one hamlet. There are still seven hamlets in Krincing that have not been reached.
“The panel power is sufficient. We just need to add a pump and a bigger reservoir. We have prepared 5,000 square metres of land for the location of the reservoir. Our target is to reach eight hamlets in Krincing,” said Purwanto.
Maintenance of the solar panels in Krincing, says Purwanto, is relatively easy. Just keep them clean. What requires regular maintenance is the catch basin and water pump, especially during the rainy season. Muddy river water often jams the pump.
“The pipes are durable, as long as hard objects do not hit them. We repaired it once, but it broke because it was run over by a tractor,” he said.
Fera, a farmer in Krincing Village, said he could plant rice twice after solar irrigation, when previously only once a year. Rice production also increased to almost 5 tonnes, from previously only 1.7 tonnes for an area of 1,250 m2.
“In the past, during the dry season, it was just left to dry. The water from irrigation never arrives,” said Fera.
The Executive Director of the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), Fabby Tumiwa, assessed that the potential for solar energy in Central Java is very large, estimated to reach a 193- to 670-gigawatt peak. But so far, he said, it has not been widely utilised.
“Central Java can become a solar powerhouse. Solar power plants are most relevant because the technology is designed to be modular, so it can be installed on any surface, including in combination with agricultural land,” said Tumiwa.
He added that leadership, regional innovation, and collaboration drive green growth and energy transition.
“Communities can get involved in driving their energy transition with their own efforts and support from the government. This is called the gotong royong energy transition. Energy transition requires great effort and investment, so contributions from the community must also be accommodated. The practices that have been carried out in Central Java can be a reference in many regions in developing renewable energy and encouraging low-carbon development,” said Tumiwa.
Assistant II for Economy and Development at the Central Java Provincial Secretariat, Sujarwanto Dwiatmoko, confirmed the conditions that occur in non-irrigated rice fields, namely dependence on fossil fuels, high operational costs for farmers, and the impact of emissions.
“The Central Java Legislative Council has proposed a programme for solar panels in non-irrigated rice fields. They asked for the use of diesel pumps to be replaced by solar pumps, especially in rice fields of 40-50 hectares,” he said.
The provincial government has also created an Energy Independent Village programme, targeting 60% of village energy needs to be met from local potential.
“Local potential in the village can be a source of renewable energy, such as water, bioenergy from waste or livestock. And the cheapest is solar energy,” said Dwiatmoko.
In the programme, the provincial government is collaborating with the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) to conduct research to maximise the application of solar energy. “Together with IESR, we declared the Solar Energy Province, with the concept of energy independent villages,” he said.
Banner photo: Krincing Village Solar Power Plant. Krincing village officials show the solar panels that power the solar-powered irrigation pump on village land. (Hartatik)