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Clean Power Indian Railways Plans To Go Solar To Cut Fossil Fuel Use

Published on August 14th, 2013 | by Mridul Chadha

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Indian Railways Plans To Supply Power To Coaches With Solar Panels

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August 14th, 2013 by
 
The Indian Railways is not usually praised for any attributes one would associate with a rail network – cleanliness, punctuality, or general ease of travel – but its latest initiative may be welcomed by everyone, from environmentalists to passengers. For the first time in its 160 year history, the Indian Railways is set to tap solar power to provide electricity inside the coaches.

The Indian Railways — in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras — has plans to use solar power equipment to supply electricity to air-conditioned coaches in some of the express trains in the country. Solar power will be used for internal lighting and air conditioning inside the coaches. IIT-Madras has been asked to develop a feasible model wherein solar power can be used on a moving train to power the AC coaches.

The Indian Railways is heavily dependent on diesel and grid electricity to power its trains. It is among the largest users of energy in the country and was supposed to be covered under India’s national-level energy efficiency cap-and-trade scheme. It was not covered under the first phase of the scheme, probably because any increase in operational costs would affect hundreds of million of passengers.

Diesel as well as coal prices have risen significantly in India over the last few years. As the cost of power generation from coal-based power projects increased over the last few years, the industrial sector bore the brunt of the tariff hikes as domestic users must be shielded (for several reasons, politics being among the major ones).

Being a nationalised service (and under political pressure), the railways could not increase passenger fare for several years which resulted in losses of millions of dollars. Now the railways plans to cut costs by reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

While there are examples of solar panel covered tunnels, those may not be very helpful in supplying power to AC coaches throughout the trains journey. The issue of consistent supply of power presents a major challenge which may require use of some kind of storage application; but inclusion of energy storage equipment could substantially increase the costs.

Indian Railways has invested in large-scale renewable energy projects in the recent past, especially wind energy projects, and has plans to increase this investment substantially in the near future. There were discussions in the use of biodiesel in locomotives, however no progress on the project has been reported in the recent past. The biofuels initiative also envisaged employing locals to look after bioenergy plantations along the railway tracks.

Title Image Credit: A train of the Indian Railways network / Credit: Challiyan | CC-BY-SA 3.0

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About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.



  • Wayne Williamson

    Been a few years since I saw the photos, but there were people actually riding on the top of the trains…I guess that would have to end.

    • Ashutosh

      As an Indian, I have only seen those in pictures only. I think its not possible anymore since most of rail networks have electric cable on top of them.

      I wont mind trying riding on the top though :D

  • Steeple

    Gonna lose a lot of seating with that move

    • Bob_Wallace

      In general, you can’t ride on the top of trains any longer in India.

      You also can’t hire someone to dive through the window of the train as it enters the station and secure a seat for you. (We used to pay 10 rupees for a reserved seat. Then they put bars over the windows. Used to be quite the sight to see dozens of young men diving head first through a moving window and the resulting flailing arms and legs. As trains pulled into busy stations people would get up and stand in the aisle in order to avoid the incoming…. )

      • Steeple

        Awesome story

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s just not as fun now.

          Now you buy your tickets on line. When the train comes in the conductor glues a computer printout of seat assignments on each car. Each person is listed along with their gender and age.

          And they won’t let you sit on top. On top wasn’t much fun in the heat of the day, but in the morning and evening it was great. Incredible views.

          India does have some great trains. For anyone who likes trains they really should ride the ‘Toy Train’ up to Darjeeling and the cog railway down from Ooty to Mysore.

          • Steeple

            What led to you spending time in India?

          • Bob_Wallace

            First trip was with a woman whom I was dating at the time. She had spent a couple years there in the Peace Corps and we took a trip together.

            Fell in love with the place, and with Asia in general. Have made many trips back since. About a half hour ago I was doing some research for another round of trekking in Nepal. I think I’ve come up with a plan for my tired old body and bum knee…..

  • JamesWimberley

    The tunnels are a non-issue for air-conditioning as they are comparatively cool places.
    Indian Railways gets a lot of stick and technically is generally well behind China, with its reliable service and high-speed lines. Bu the Chinese are behind on online ticketing. The Indian Railways website will sell you a ticket and reservation from anywhere to anywhere, as in France, Germany or Spain. Five years ago, when I visited China, you still had to buy a paper ticket at your station of departure.

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