Solar Energy Could Power Over 25% Trains of Indian Railways Report

According to a recent report published by Climate Trends and Riding Sunbeams, one in four trains of the Indian Railways could be powered by solar power.

Indian Railways is one of India’s largest power consumers and third-largest diesel users, consuming 17,862 TWh of power and 2,749 billion liters of diesel in 2018-19, accounting for 4% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2018, the government approved plans to electrify 100% of railways by 2023. As of March 2021, around 71% of the country’s railways are electrified. Of this, over 6,000 kilometers of railway tracks were electrified in 2020-21. The complete electrification of Indian Railways could save ₹130 billion (~1.8 billion) in fuel bills annually.

Earlier this year, Union Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal said that the entire Indian rail network would be fully electrified by 2023 and run on renewable energy by 2030.

However, the researchers warned that achieving complete electrification by 2023 would initially increase carbon dioxide emissions by 32% because India relies on coal to produce power.

According to the report, solar projects installed along electrified railway tracks could replace roughly 4 GW of coal-fired electricity and save 20% of Indian Railways’ annual power bills in the first year and 40% thereafter.

Apart from that, regulatory support for procurement through the open access mechanism could also reduce power procurement costs and save around ₹410 billion (~$5.57 billion) over the decade. Besides, the Indian Railways has plans to install 20 GW of solar capacity for traction and non-traction loads to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.

Two electricity demand profiles (load profiles) were considered. The flat profile assumed the traction demand was constant every day of the year between the hours of 04:00 and 23:00. The commuter profile assumed a morning and evening peak, as observed on traction networks in the UK.

The report stated that 5.72 GW of solar energy could be connected to Indian Railways’ flat profile and 3.33 GW for the commute profile. The 5.72 GW solar capacity could generate 8.29 GWh of energy and satisfy around 28% power demand of the flat profile.

While the 3.33 GW solar capacity is expected to generate 5.25 GWh of energy and meet the 18% energy needs of the commute profile. In addition, this would also help the Indian Railways reduce 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The power required to move the trains in a railway network is known as traction load. If Indian Railways could connect 20 GW of solar projects to directly supply traction demand, around 49% of traction demand could be satisfied at a 47% solar utilization for the flat profile. Meanwhile, 45% traction demand could be met at a 43% solar utilization for the commuter profile.

Connecting these solar projects with battery storage systems could enhance solar utilization and satisfy higher traction demands.

In December last year, the Railway Energy Management Company invited bids for a pilot project to procure renewable energy power for the long term from grid-connected solar power projects with energy storage systems. Based on this pilot storage project’s success, Indian Railways would scale up storage-based projects across the railway network to achieve its target of ‘net zero’ carbon emissions organization by 2030.

According to the report, Indian Railways will save ₹170 billion (~$2.3 billion) in fuel costs and other savings by attaining net-zero emissions by 2030. Its low-carbon growth strategy can also help India achieve its 2030 emission reduction targets.