According to the World business Council of sustainable development (WBCSD), Pakistan is facing a crisis due to the scarcity of fresh water available to its growing population. This has a direct impact on our agriculture sector which engages 45% of the entire labour force.

Pakistan has the world’s largest irrigation network which forms the primary source of irrigation to 36 million acres of farmland. However, the unreliable water distribution system, corruption, water theft, and indiscriminate water usage makes the whole system inefficient.

Hydrokinetics powered Irrigation Network Automation (HINA) is our proposed solution for sustainable and effective management of our water resources. We have designed and implemented a prototype system that enables energy harvesting from slow moving water bodies such as canals and rivers to power automation of the irrigation canal networks.

The proposed solution is a multi-disciplinary project which required innovation in turbine design and power electronics for efficient power extraction from a generator, intelligent storage and motor drive for a canal gate to control water distribution and drip irrigation for efficient utilization.

The project envisions powering the infrastructure of smart water grids from the very source it is controlling and regulating. The project concept is unique in that it allows continuous harvesting of small amounts of power for delivering short bursts of large power on demand for canal gates, drip irrigation and pumping systems of potable water supply system.

According to estimates, it will make the irrigation process 40% more efficient. Thereby, it raises the crop yield on the average by 20% to 90% to help sustain the food demand of the growing population. It also provides a reliable water supply for domestic and industrial use (Water Resources and conservation Strategy of Pakistan, 14).

Pakistan is an energy deficient country and in addition to many areas having unreliable or no access to electricity, the power shortfall over the past years has been on the rise. Pakistan has a vast irrigation canal network and there is an immense potential for exploiting the energy in the slow moving, high volume water bodies. In Punjab alone, the low head hydel potential is quoted as 600-1000 MW by the Pakistan Energy Department.

Our innovation is leveraging hydrokinetics for this very particular application, i.e. of powering the motors that control the canal gates and drip irrigation, thus making the smart infrastructure energy independent (self-powered and self-sustaining) a critical enabler if such technology is to be deployed in a canal network with no access to a reliable grid.

Objectives and beneficiaries

- Enable an energy self-reliant smart water grid infrastructure for irrigation network in Pakistan.

- Efficient utilization of abundant but difficult to harness slow moving water in canals and rivers.

- Design and implementation of a modular and scalable system to supplement power for other loads used in irrigation like drip irrigation and water pumps.

Our primary target markets are the Irrigation, Agriculture and Public Health departments of Punjab, Pakistan. Farmers will be prime beneficiaries of HINA as 75% of the farmland uses canal irrigation.
Water flows in these distributaries for up to 11 months a year (24 hours a day) to cater to the needs of the farmers. Presently, the gates that control the inflow of water are manually operated; this makes the system inefficient and unreliable. According to an article published by Shahid Ahmad in Atlantic Council, current system losses of the irrigation system are as high as 55%. Our proposed design has the potential of being a steady and reliable source for powering the Smart Water Grids and other modern agricultural practices to improve crop yield by many folds.

Strong points of the practice

Our design provides a simple, sustainable and cost effective solution for HINA infrastructure to enable efficient management of our water resources. It taps into the vast potential of energy generation from hydrokinetics - energy harvesting from slow moving water in canals, without the need for additional infrastructure.

Our project will bring key insights into the challenges inherent in harnessing power from slow moving water and the lessons learnt can be applied to an even larger deployment on rivers and larger canals in planar regions.

The design has a high replicability factor as it can be used within 20m downstream of an existing location to produce and integrate power for a wide variety of purposes including drip irrigation and potable water pumping solutions. Also, our designed system does not depend on grid power and requires significantly lower capital and operating costs than grid enablement of rural areas.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

The carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels over the years have led to climate change. The changing weather patterns have also adversely impacted the agriculture sector; the increasing demand for fuel causes competition between fuel crop and food crop. Thus it has aggravated the problem of food shortage. HINA is a sustainable design that incorporates the use of clean, indigenous renewable resources and its implementation has zero carbon foot print.

This practice has less impact on environment than the conventional hydroelectric method and solar cell method. Large amounts of plant life are submerged in water reservoirs and decay anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen), generating greenhouse gases like methane. However, hydrokinetic does not require a dam or diversion thus avoiding the negative impacts associated with dams. Also, the PV industry is energy intensive and uses toxic, gases and corrosive liquids in its production lines which impact the climate severely through its production and its disposal after use.

Our design contributes to social and economic development, provides access to sustainable and a secure energy supply, and reduces negative impacts on the environment and health.

Furthermore, SWG will help reduce water wastage by promoting the use of modern technologies like sprinkler and drip irrigation by providing a sustainable and cheap source of energy capable of driving motor loads. These modern irrigation techniques provide water directly to the roots of crops and leads to almost 30% to 70% water savings (Water Resources and conservation Strategy of Pakistan, 14).

Hydrokinetic energy development is rapidly progressing and it is feasible both technologically and economically for countries like Pakistan which have wide spread river and canal network. Harvesting energy from slow moving canal can be a part of an affordable and sustainable solution to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, conserve water and enable adoption of technologies for higher crop yield.

Replicability potential of the practice

Our design is self-sustainable and scalable. It can be used in canals with water velocities of around 1m/s to 3 m/s. For canals with higher water speeds the turbine design can be tuned to produce even higher amounts of power.

In Pakistan there are 44 main canals that further are divided into numerous gate controlled distributaries, and our units can be installed along the 56,073 km vast canal network.

Apart from Pakistan, any other country that has a vast un-automated canal network can install HINA in order to modernize their water distribution network to efficiently and effectively distribute water to their farmers.

[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made to increase readability and understanding.]