Analyzing the Feasibility of an Irrigation System Powered by Renewable Energy in Nan, Thailand

O'Malley, Katie [Browse]
Senior thesis


Wood, Eric F. [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering [Browse]
Princeton University. Program in Sustainable Energy [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
AbstractThe recent effects of land use change in Southeast Asia have been significant and demand action before long-term consequences on biodiversity and human occur. This thesis investigates and presents a potential solution to the deforestation and resulting water storage crisis in the Nan Province of Thailand. Cutting down forests in Nan has resulted in flooding, soil erosion, and landslides, each of which will continue to inconvenience farmers and people living in the region. A solution to the water storage crisis and deforestation is crafted in this research. The proposition utilizes renewable energy to pump water from new upland reservoirs to farms that produce either higher value crops over longer periods of time or lower value crops that are harvested multiple times each year. Analyzing climate data in order to determine the potential for wind and solar power in Nan was the first step in reaching the proposed solution. After determining the appropriate power source, a reservoir was sized and designed to combat the shifting cultivation practices that have resulted in massive areas of deforestation in Thailand. This research compiled findings from geographic information software and comprehensive measurements of flow accumulation and flow direction across the mountainous region to identify potential water storage locations and screen out those that are not near deforested areas, human settlements, or roads. This paper identifies a subsection of Nan with mountainous terrain and areas of deforestation and subsequent cropping as the potential site for reservoirs. It investigates two strategies in this region. The first strategy models maize and soybeans, crops that are familiar to the region and are profitable over a short timeframe. The second strategy prioritizes the higher-value cash crops, coffee and rubber, which allows farmers to work over a smaller area of land for higher profits after a longer planting period of five years. These two strategies have been modeled for three different reservoir sites. Crop water requirements and the volume needed for irrigation for each of the four crops were calculated using the FAO model CROPWAT, and the water flows and volume measurements were made using ArcSWAT in accompaniment with ArcGIS’s mapping tools. The water storage simulations and subsequent analysis can be scaled to other parts of the country as a model for how to approach reservoir planning and strategizing. After seasonal climate analysis in the region, the most suitable renewable energy power source for pumping water uphill is solar power. Additionally, this research determined that water storage in the uplands of Nan is possible in multiple locations using a variety of crops, but the most economically beneficial over a longer period of time are coffee and rubber. Finally, example locations for reservoirs and potential heights and volumes have been identified that meet the estimate water storage needed. The goal of this research was to determine the most efficient approach to solving the unsustainable land use crisis in Nan, and the solution may be used in other regions suffering from the same issues. Hopefully, the results of this research will be built upon in future research and eventually reach fruition in Nan.

Supplementary Information