Direct Supply of Solar Power to Railways Can Save 7 Mt Carbon: Study

The direct supply of solar energy to Indian Railways lines, without the need to connect via the grid, would save almost seven million tons of carbon a year whilst also powering at least one in four train on the national network on competitive terms, a new study by Delhi-based Climate Trends and UK-based green tech start-up Riding Sunbeams has revealed.

PM Modi as approved a program for 100% electrification of Indian Railways, Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal said recently. “We’ll be the largest Railways in the world to be 100% electrified with 120,000 track km across India. By 2030, we also hope to be the world’s first 100% green railways with net zero emissions,” he added.

Goyal has directed the Railways to earmark huge areas of unproductive land for solar development. Plans are already underway to deliver 20 GW of solar generation to match growing demand for energy to move trains.

As per the annual report of Indian railways 2019-2020, there was a passenger traffic of over 8 billion in that period, which would mean that 2 billion passengers could be travelling on trains directly powered by solar energy.

The new study highlights that around a quarter of this new solar capacity — up to 5,272 megawatt — could be fed directly into the railway’s overhead lines instead of being procured over the electricity networks, reducing energy losses and saving money for the rail operator.

The researchers found that substituting energy supplied from the coal-dominated grid for private-wire supply from solar could also rapidly cut emissions by as much as 6.8million tonnes carbon dioxide each year — just over the entire annual emissions of Kanpur.

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

Highlighting that the government pumps large sums of money to modernise the railways, director of Climate Trends and co-author Aarti Khosla said, “There has been analysis that converting all diesel locomotives to electric will indeed increase the 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.”

The researchers also warned, however, that achieving the target of full electrification of all routes by 2023 could be accompanied by an increase in CO2 emissions in the short term because of India’s current reliance on coal to produce electricity.

In June this year, Railway Energy Management Company Limited, a joint venture of Indian Railways and Rail India Technical and Economic Service Ltd., invited bids from select developers for setting up a 15 MW solar PV power plant with 7 MW/14 MWh battery energy storage systems in Maharashtra.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.

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