Harnessing solar power for railways


Indian Railways is the fourth longest railway network in the world, carrying more than 20 million daily. And now, is envisioning to become a green transporter, making railways eco-friendly. This would be equivalent to the elimination of 15 million tons of CO2 each year.

The first station in the country to be fully solar-powered was the Guwahati railway station in the state of Assam, with a capacity of 700 kW.

The largest solar power plant on a railway station is being installed in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh. It has a capacity of 50 MW and is spread over more than 200 acres of area. The project is being done by BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited), a public-sector undertaking. 

A year back the count of railway stations already solarized stood around 1094. Some of the major ones include stations at Varanasi, Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, etc. And the result has been savings of crores of rupees for the government.

Technical aspects

There are two types of energy systems, traction-based and non-traction-based requirements. Traction-based means electrical energy generated for the movement of a vehicle. The difficult thing in such projects is to turn the DC power produced by the panels into usable AC current. This requires the development of high-capacity inverters which are not readily available in the market, they are specially designed and made for such special systems.

Initiatives taken for solar plants

1) No objection certificate for open access- with this a third party can purchase energy from the producers 

2) Banking provisions- to make the adoption of clean energy hassle-free

3) Unrestricted net metering regulations- this allows the export and import of electricity to the grid at the same price, further boosting the savings in electricity bills

Possibility of solar power trains

The first 100% solar train in the world is actually a tourist attraction in Australia, made 70 years ago. It has a supply of 6.6 kW of power and runs at a very low pace of 18 km/hr.

 The enthusiasm around such technologies is always high because it is not restricted to a particular sector, industry, or strata of society. It is something that will be universal soon, just like how ubiquitous computers and the internet are today. 

Trains could potentially be completely or partially powered by the sun. A solar train is an electric train that runs on energy derived from photovoltaic cells, installed either on the roof of the train or next to the railway lines.

If implemented on a large scale in our railways, this can very well translate to savings of 17,000 crores in fuel cost. This energy can be used for locomotion or to power the lights and fans in the coaches. The energy produced by the panels will be transmitted to the electric lines above the trains.

From a technical point of view, it is a feasible prospect, but the implementation of this level of infrastructure where simultaneously trains are operating, running strictly on solar is a distant reality as of now.

Future of Railways

The Indian Railways is working towards reducing its carbon footprint by employing renewable energy to power its operations. The scope of installation, whether in the form of solar rooftop coaches or solar on the railway stations, is immense. Unoccupied areas amass around 51,000 hectares of area where solar can be installed.

These plans are in line with the ‘Atma Nirbhar’ mission, an economic development policy to make India a self-reliant economy. Around 100 MW of projects have already been commissioned to accomplish the ambition of being the first transport organization to be energy self-sufficient.


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