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Solar powered water purification – Making a water treatment facility reliable and safe in Vengamukka Palem, India

Multiple Authors

Vengamukka Palem, a cluster of villages 5 km away from Ongole town in Andhra Pradesh, has increasingly been facing the salinisation of their groundwater aquifers and a scarcity of fresh water sources, which led to a drinking water crisis. Changing rainfall patterns, aggravated by climate change, are already putting additional pressure on local water resources and are projected increase in the future. The community’s existing reverse osmosis plant was powered by the local grid, which was highly unstable. It was cut for up to 6-8 hours on weekdays – usually in the middle of the day – making it impossible to desalinate the water and supply the 3,825 villagers with drinking water.

Supported by the EU-financed AdaptCap project, the community of Vengamukka Palem decided to install solar panels on the local reverse osmosis plant. Solar power substitutes the unstable power supply from the grid. The reverse osmosis system needs 3 KWh energy that are supplied by the 4 KW solar system. The system is split into two units. The first unit which is installed on the roof of the plant generates 2.4 KWh power while the second unit mounted on the ground near the reverse osmosis plant generates the remaining 1.6 KWh power. Each of the solar panels for the roof and for the ground has a length of 1.66 m and height of 0.99 m with a maximum power output of 200 W per hour. The system has a 20 KWh backup system, which enables the plant to run for at least six hours every day independent of the power grid supply. Thus, the community can be supplied with drinking water without any interruptions. The key benefits of this adaptation measure for the community of Vengamukka Palem are:

  • Save energy: The community is estimated to save 7,200 KWh per year as energy is provided via solar panels. The cost of energy has decreased considerably.
  • Ensure availability of clean drinking water: In total, this adaptation measure provides 11,169 m³ of clean drinking water to the inhabitants of the community. Now, 8 litres of drinking water are available per head per day or 2,920 litres per head per year.

Implementation costs

The overall costs of this adaptation measure – including a local vulnerability and needs assessment, capacity building measures in the community, technical support as well as material and labour costs – amounted to Rs. 648,500, which was completely borne by AdaptCap.

Operation & maintenance of the system

In order to remain operative in the long run, several parts of the system require regular operation and maintenance (O&M). Regular O&M activities include:

  • Cleaning and replacement of filters
  • Cleaning and Maintenance of solar panels, UPS, batteries, micro filter
  • Charge control and A/C panel board
  • Repairs to motors and pumps if necessary
  • Raw water tank cleaning and maintenance
  • Payment of electricity bill

The reverse osmosis plant is now managed by Ongole Municipal Corporation, who is also responsible for maintaining the solar system provided by AdaptCap. Thus, the corporation uses the collected water charges towards O&M for which it also uses its own funds. The average monthly O&M costs are Rs. 7,500.

M&E of activities and benefits

A monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system was developed to regularly screen and assess the adaptation project’s sustainability and impact. Information is collected in four areas:

  • Effectively achieved vulnerability reduction
  • Acceptance by and technical feasibility for the community
  • Cost for implementation and regular O&M
  • Positive and negative side effects (i.e., environmental, social, economic)

Challenges and lessons learnt

  • Ensure a strong buy-in by the community and local authorities for the measure to achieve efficient and sustainable implementation.
  • Community participation should be ensured throughout all phases of such an initiative.

Project background and partners

The project “AdaptCap – Strengthening Adaptation Capacities and Minimizing Risks of Vulnerable Coastal Communities in India” financed by the European Commission has set out to strengthen the adaptation capacities of vulnerable coastal communities in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (India) and minimize their climate change-related risks using an integrated approach.

The three-year initiative is implemented by the Indo-German Environment Partnership Programme of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ-IGEP) in partnership with four Indian and international partners.

GIZ-IGEP is responsible for the overall implementation and project management.

Academy of Gandhian Studies (AGS) supports the stakeholders in three cities and nine villages in Andhra Pradesh as a local partner, providing training and implementation support in assessing adaptation needs and developing and carrying out adaptation measures.

AVVAI Village Welfare Society (AVVAI) fulfils the same role in Tamil Nadu.

adelphi contributed to developing technology solutions for the pilot projects and M&E frameworks, designing and implementing capacity building programmes and providing technical support for pilot project implementation.

ICLEI South Asia led the implementation of activities in the six urban areas targeted by AdaptCap.

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