One brief sentence in finance minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech hints at a potentially transformative strategy to rev up solar energy pan-India.
The proposal to feed about 7,000 railway stations with solar power could go a long way in meeting, if not exceeding, the national goal to have 100 GW of functional solar generation capacity by 2022.
If the Railways can gainfully leverage land and building space for, say, 20 MW of solar capacity in each of the 7,000 stations, it would greatly increase green, renewable power nationally.
The Railways would be in a win-win situation in switching over to solar power. Given that the Railways pay for power at the highest, commercial rates, sourcing solar power on-site would save money and the environment.
There is widespread energy poverty and the lack of quality power in large parts of India, and concurrently our greenhouse gas emissions are large and rising fast.
The way ahead is to speedily concretise forward-looking plans for solar power at rail stations, and focus on meeting lighting demand in adjoining areas too, so as to reap economies of scale.
It would gel well with the ongoing plan to revamp and upgrade railway stations. And for the solar assets, there would be much potential for unlocking value and divestment, following listing on the stock market, and sooner rather than later.
The way forward for the Railways is to proactively access funds from the Clean Environment Cess corpus, seek accelerated depreciation, generation-based incentives, etc, and explore other innovative financing options to actualise its solar power targets in a time-bound fashion.
The Railways have a path-breaking opportunity to adopt solar power for lighting purposes and, in the process, handsomely boost its market capitalisation. The track is clear, all the way home.