India’s push to promote domestic manufacturing in the solar power segment may soon get a boost, thanks to the Indian Railways. The world’s fourth-largest railway network is planning to replace almost its entire power supply from thermal power plants with solar power plants.
According to media reports, the Ministry of Railways could soon issue tenders to set up solar power projects of 4 gigawatts of capacity to power locomotives. The power supply is expected to meet the traction demand only for Railways.
Project developers would be asked to set up solar power projects on either sides of the railway tracks, over the land owned by Indian Railways. To meet the traction demand of locomotives Indian Railways currently sources 4 gigawatt capacity from various thermal power plants spread across the country. Electricity from these power plants is sourced at an average price of Rs 5/kWh (7.02¢/kWh) while the current lowest solar tariff bid stands at Rs 2.44/kWh (3.43¢/kWh).
The planned solar power tender would reportedly reduce Indian Railways’ annual electricity bill by 20% in the first year, and by 40% thereafter. For non-traction power consumption, the Railways is already working to set up rooftop solar systems at around 7,000 stations.
What the Indian government hopes to achieve from this tender is a boost in the solar equipment manufacturing sector. As the solar power projects would be set up along the railway tracks itself, no additional transmission lines would be required. Power from the projects would be directly fed into the overhead lines using small sized inverters and transformers. Such inverters are currently used only for rooftop solar power systems which still have extremely low penetration in India. This tender would instantly create demand for a large volume of such inverters which, in turn, would trigger boost in domestic manufacturing.
The traction power demand for Indian Railways is expected to increase to 4,000 megawatts by 2022. The government hopes to transform Indian Railways into a net zero emitter by 2030.
The 4 gigawatt large-scale solar power plan seems to be the result of a study conducted by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) that stated that the Indian Railways could draw supply from 3.9 gigawatts large-scale and 1.1 gigawatts rooftop solar power system to increase the share of renewable energy in its power consumption.
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