In what may be a game-changer in helping the Indian Railways cut energy costs, the government may provide subsidy for putting solar panels on the roofs of around 500 trains to generate electricity.
This is in addition to the plan to set up 500 megawatts (MW) solar capacity panels on the rooftops of railway stations. Recently, the Indian Railways, the country’s largest consumer of electricity, ran a pilot coach with solar panels fitted on its roof.
Since trains already have batteries attached to the coaches, the electricity generated from the solar panels will be used to run fans and lights and not to provide power for the locomotive’s traction.
“The railways plan to fit the roof with solar panels for other trains as well. The ministry of new and renewable energy is ready to provide subsidy for around 500 trains towards this purpose,” said a government official, requesting anonymity.
The railways also plans to source 10% of its electricity demand through renewable energy sources by 2020 and signed four agreements with the ministries of power and renewable energy last month. Indian Railways’ power consumption is growing at an average 5% a year and its power bill is estimated at Rs.12,500 crore in the year ended 31 March.
The national carrier is also conducting an energy audit to estimate the amount of savings made and is planning a transmission system to carry the power generated, in an attempt to cut its power costs.
Spokespersons for the Indian Railways and the ministry of new and renewable energy did not respond to Mint’s emailed rquests for a comment.
“Indian Railways is the single biggest consumer of energy and hence it is imperative that the railways must look towards alternative sources of energy,” said railway minister Suresh Prabhu in a 4 August statement.
“The minister said that it has already been announced in this year’s railway budget that Indian Railways will be setting up 1,000MW solar plants in next five years and the suitable initiatives for implementing this have been undertaken. Shri Suresh Prabhu said that railways has already initiated the process of using rooftop of railway buildings for generating solar power. We have also taken innovative initiative for harnessing solar energy by putting solar panels on the roof of railway coaches,” the statement added.
On Monday, SunEdison Inc. announced the installation of eight solar systems for Delhi Metro Rail Corp.’s Badarpur-Faridabad line, which is expected to generate 1.9MW. SunEdison is also setting up a 1.7MW solar plant at the Yamuna Bank station and yard.
The Indian Railways plans to reduce electricity bills by nearly one-third by seeking competitive bids from power producers, sourcing from electricity exchanges and reaching bilateral arrangements, according to this year’s railway budget.
As part of this strategy, it is trying to take advantage of its position as the largest consumer of power in the country to bring down electricity costs by calling for bids from power producers to supply 1,010MW of electricity over three years,Mint reported on 17 July.
By calling for competitive bids, the railways expects to benefit from lower tariffs. The transporter is seeking to reduce its electricity cost to less than Rs.5 per unit from the current average of around Rs.7 per unit.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has pushed renewable energy to the top of its energy security agenda and is looking to provide green power at less thanRs.4.50 per unit. India needs as much as $250 billion to meet its target of installing 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power and 60,000MW of wind power by 2022.
Analysts have welcomed the government’s ambitious plans.
“India’s utility scale solar project pipeline is growing rapidly, bringing the government’s ambitious solar goals closer. The installed capacity stands at 4.4GW and projects under development and allocation stand at an additional 10.9GW. The pipeline number is expected to swell further as new tenders are released,” Bridge to India, a solar energy consulting firm, said in a 7 September statement.
“While the market might still fall short of the 60GW target for utility scale projects, this market growth would make India a key global market over the next few years. Depending on the performance of the Japanese market, India could become the third or the fourth largest solar market in the world,” it said.