Direct supply of solar energy to railway lines can cut CO2 emissions by as much as 6.8 million tonnes each year
South Central Railway (SCR), with a potential solar power generation between 394-625 MW, could easily power the Indian Railways to save almost seven million tonnes of carbon a year with at least one in four trains in the national network running on solar power.
A study by voluntary organisation ‘Climate Trends’ and UK-based green tech start-up ‘Riding Sunbeams’ has found that direct supply of solar energy to railway lines could rapidly cut emissions by as much as 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. Indian Railways has made plans to become a zero carbon emitter by 2030 with a mix of electrification, renewable energy and energy efficiency. It has decided to make use of the vast railway land for solar power development with plans underway to deliver 20GW of solar power to match growing demand for energy to move trains.
The study highlights that around a quarter of this new solar capacity — up to 5,272 MW — could be fed directly into the railways’ overhead lines instead of being procured over the electricity networks, reducing energy losses and saving money. However, achieving the target of full electrification could lead to an increase in CO2 emissions in the short term because of reliance on coal to produce electricity. It analysed the traction energy demand on each of railway zones and matched this with the potential solar resource in each region to produce a figure for the total amount of solar energy that could be connected directly to the railway to run trains, where SCR was put on top.
Other potential solar-to-rail potential are: Central Railway (299-475MW), Northern Railway (290-459MW), Western Railway (280-443MW) and West Central Railway (278-440MW).
Incidentally, SCR General Manager Gajanan Mallya has mentioned earlier about commissioning 8.2MWp solar power plants, 1.75 KWp solar hybrid plants, 2.18 lakhs LPD solar water heating, 570 kWp water pumping and 52 KW equivalent day pipe light system in offices. The zone has also electrified more than 4,000 km of total of about 6,400 km while it has been pioneer in introducing head on generation system where power is directly tapped from the overhead lines reducing air and noise pollution along with reducing carbon emission by 700 MTs per year per train. Now, 32 trains are run through this mode removing the need for two power cars equipped with diesel alternator sets about 32 trains.
If 100% LED lighting in stations/offices is another first in railways, 20 ‘energy neutral’ stations with solar roof cover over platform, energy efficient gadgets, brushless electric motor energy-saving fans, inverter type ACs, etc., of 150 kWp has been achieved. With anticipated energy generation from these stations coming to around 2 lakh units annually, savings of ₹1.8 lakh each is expected and reduction of carbon footprint of 1,700 tonnes per annum. Mr. Mallya has called for enhancing solar energy capacity taking advantage of the hot terrain and climatic conditions to increase energy savings from 71 lakh energy units; 6,300 tonnes of CO2 reduction and savings of ₹6 crore per year. The report highlights railways’ dependence on coal, both as an energy source and as key freight commodity, accounting for almost a third of revenue and called for a change in business model.
“India is leading the world in rail electrification and solar power deployment. Connecting these two low-carbon technologies can drive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its efforts to transition off fossil fuels to tackle the climate crisis,” said report co-author, Riding Sunbeams founder Leo Murray. “It is a tremendous opportunity of creating a direct connection of the locomotive system to solar PV installations,” added co-author and director, Climate Trends Aarti Khosla.