Indian Railways could power one in four trains with its own solar panels

Feeding solar electricity directly from its own panels into overhead lines, on a fully-electrified rail network, would be more cost-effective for the state-owned company than buying that green power from the grid, according to a new study.

September 2, 2021

From pv magazine India

A study by Indian NGO Climate Trends and U.K. green tech start-up Riding Sunbeams, has suggested self-generated solar power would be an optimal way of helping Indian Railways meet its 2030 net-zero target, given the rapid cut in carbon emissions and cost advantages it would offer.

The document claims up to 28% of the electricity required by Indian Railways trains could come from the state-owned entity’s own solar panels, rather than from the grid, provided the entire rail network is electrified.

With Indian Railways planning to install 20 GW of solar generation capacity to help it to net-zero-operations this decade, the authors of the study suggested around 5,272 MW of that project capacity could directly power the company’s trains – ensuring at least one in four trains would be powered directly from company-owned PV and eliminating 6.8 million tons of carbon emissions annually.

Direct supply

The direct supply of solar electricity to the network’s overhead lines would be more cost-effective for Indian Railways as it would reduce energy transmission and distribution losses, the authors of the study pointed out. The deployment of energy storage trackside would enable even more of Indian Railways’ self-generated solar power to feed its trains.

“Right now, India is leading the world on two vital climate frontiers – rail electrification and solar power deployment,” wrote report author and Riding Sunbeams founder Leo Murray. “Our analysis shows that connecting these two keystone low-carbon technologies together in Indian Railways, can drive both India’s economic recovery from the Covid pandemic and its efforts to transition off fossil fuels to tackle the climate crisis.”

Climate Trends director and study co-author Aarti Khosla said: “Indian Railways plays an important role in the lives of every Indian. Not only is it the most practical mode of transportation, it is also the most famous, and the largest employer in the country. The government pumps large sums of money [in] to modernize the railways which, in turn, will play a large role in a net-zero vision of the nation. There has been analysis that converting all diesel locomotives to electric will, indeed, increase … emissions in the short term. However, this report shows the tremendous opportunity of doing it right the first time, by creating a direct connection of the locomotive system to solar PV installations, meeting more than a quarter of the total demand.”

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Emissions

India’s coal-dependent power system would also likely entail a rise in emissions as Indian Railways aims to electrify all routes by 2023, the researchers warned.

The report’s authors based their calculation of the amount of solar electricity which could directly power trains on the energy demand of the 16 of Indian Railways’ 18 network zones for which annual consumption data were available – with the Metro zone centered on Kolkata, and the new, Visakhapatnam-based South Coast Railway the exceptions.

Demand-supply

For each zone, train power requirements were matched with regional solar resource potential.

The report’s authors found the best five zones for photovoltaic-to-rail potential were the South Central Railway, which includes Hyderabad and features 394 MW of train electricity demand and the potential to host 625 MW of solar generation capacity; the Mumbai-based Central Railway which extends east of the city (299-475 MW); the Delhi-centered Northern Railway (290-459 MW); the Western Railway to the north of Mumbai (280-443 MW); and the Jabalpur-headquartered West Central Railway (278-440 MW).

The North Eastern Railway, which encompasses Lucknow, had the smallest train power demand and, therefore, would only host 117 MW of solar capacity, according to the study.

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