Indian Railways to become world’s first 100% green operator, says minister

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Indian Railways – the nation’s largest electricity consumer, with 2.4% of total consumption, and the third largest high-speed diesel user, with 2.6 billion liters consumed annually – plans to become the world’s first 100% ‘green’ railway network in 10 years’ time.

The ambitious plan is an extension of Indian Railways’ bid to develop 1 GW of solar energy generation capacity this fiscal year – and meet 10% of its energy demand from renewables – and to hit the 5 GW capacity mark by 2025.

Announcing the 100% clean energy in 2029 ambition in the Rajya Sabha, minister for railways Piyush Goyal said Indian Railways plans to install 1 GW of solar and 200 MW of wind power plants across its zonal railways and production units. The national rail operator has already installed 88 MW of solar capacity and 103 MW of wind facilities.

“Indian Railways have already provided solar panels on [the] rooftop of 19 narrow gauge coaches and 40 broad gauge, non-air conditioned coaches which are presently in service,” said Goyal in a written reply to parliament. “Also, rooftop solar panels have been provided on 50 goods guard brake vans to supply electricity for [a] fan, light and a charging point for the guards.”

Carriage limitations

The minister, however, highlighted constraints on installing panels on top of train coaches. “The weight of solar panels on coach rooftops is an additional constraint,” said Goyal. “Hence, the provision of solar panels on [the] rooftop of train coaches is presently under [an] experimental stage and hence not considered for installation on all train coaches.”

Power output from panels on moving trains is affected by frequent changes in direction and shadows cast by trees and trackside buildings, he added.

Indian Railways plans to develop 30 GW of solar generation capacity on some of its 51,000 hectares of vacant land.

In its Decarbonizing Indian Railways report in 2017, the Council on Energy, Environment & Water stated Indian Railways could install up to 5 GW of generation capacity by 2025, with about 1.1 GW from rooftop projects and 3.9 GW from utility scale assets. That would provide a quarter of the rail operator’s electricity from renewables.

Hitting that target would create thousands of clean energy jobs, generate $4 billion (Rs27,540 crore) in private investment and contribute 5% of the national solar target of installing 100 GW of solar generation capacity, according to the rail operator’s Powering Indian Railways: 5 GW by 2025 study.