Indian Railways is the largest electricity consumer in the country and the world’s 4th largest railway network across the globe in terms of size. In 2020 the average consumption for traction loads and no traction loads were 18410 and 2338 million units (MU).
Daily Indian railways transport 24 million passengers every day slightly less than the Australian population. Because the fuel requirements are massive, therefore, have a large carbon footprint. The giant transporter used 115.45 lakh kiloliters of high-speed diesel between 2014-15 and 2018-19, according to the previous railway ministry. India’s transport sector contributes to 12 % of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Out of which the railways accounting for about 4 per cent of these emissions.
Over the years Indian Railways has taken a multi-pronged approach to decarbonize and have a green approach. The railways have an ambitious plan to accomplish the goal of becoming a “net-zero” carbon emitter by 2030.
Part of the plan includes the electrification of the entire network by December 2023. If achieved it will be world’s largest 100% electrified railways system by the deadline.
The second part of the plan includes meeting the electricity demands using solar sources. Also having an environmentally friendly structure and microlevel cleanliness drive.
As of January 2021, 42354 kilometres of the route has been electrified and because of it, there is a sharp fall in its diesel consumption.
Railways have planned to install 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar for traction and non-traction loads. A power plant of 1.7 MW capacity has already been built in Bina, Madhya Pradesh during the pandemic in July’20.
Other plants in construction are a 2.5 MW and 50 MW capacity power plant in Diwana, Haryana and Bhilai, Chhattisgarh respectively. The 50 MW plant will be used to power the locomotive and this will not incur any interstate transmission fees.
The railway’s ministry has installed solar panels at over 960 stations. These are being used to meet railway station energy needs. Bids have also been submitted for 198 MW solar power panels on the rooftops of 550 railway stations.
Challenges for Indian Railways for solar plant proliferation:
- No-objection certificate for open access: Open access has been granted as a deemed licensee in 11 states and the Damodar Valley Corporation area. The no objection certificate (NoC) for open access to electricity flow for railways in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Telangana has not been operationalized due to regulatory challenges that the railways are vigorously pursuing. If approval for procuring power through open access is granted in these states, solar deployment may increase.
- Wheeling and banking provision: Full deployment of solar potential will become more feasible if states provide wheeling and banking arrangements.
- Merger of solar purchase obligation and non-solar purchase obligation: The availability of a banking facility and the consolidation of solar and non-solar obligations will allow the railways to meet their Renewable Purchase Obligations.
- Unrestricted net metering regulations: Unrestricted net metering for rooftop solar projects would hasten the deployment of railway solar plants.