India’s Rail Service on Track for Cleaner Energy

Indian Railways is manufacturing locomotives that will run on diesel and electricity.
Published: Fri 22 Jan 2016

India has the world’s fourth longest railway networks, more than 65,800km (40,890 miles) in extent, after Russia at 86,000km (53,437 miles) and China at 112,000km (69,593 miles). The US has the world’s largest network of railway lines with a total of 224,792 km (139,679 miles). With India and China currently showing the largest growth rates, it’s inevitable their rail networks will grow significantly in the coming decades. Since renewable energy is becoming more and more competitive with fossil fuels and cleaner energy reduces the effects of climate change, a move to cleaner energy makes a great deal of sense.

Largest consumer of energy makes changes

Indian Railways is the country’s largest consumer of electricity with a power consumption growing at an average 5% a year. To cut this escalating bill, the company has made some ambitious commitments.

Indian Railways has already announced its intention to use at least 10% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. The current Indian Railway budget includes plans for the first 1,000MW solar plant to be used by the company over the next five years.

To further reduce its electricity bills, Indian Railways is seeking competitive bids from power producers, sourcing from electricity exchanges and reaching bilateral arrangements, according to the 2015 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. 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.

Last year, the company announced a plan to put solar panels on the roofs of 500 trains to generate electricity; the plan is now partially implemented. This came after a recent decision to install 500MW of solar capacity panels on train station rooftops in India. Batteries have also been attached to the coaches to enable the electricity generated from solar panels to power fans and lights but will not yet provide power for locomotives.

But this may soon change.

Manufacturing diesel-electricity locomotives

Indian Railways now plans to manufacture dual-mode locomotives that run on diesel and electricity. The electricity will be drawn through overhead wires on electrified routes.

Railways will manufacture five dual-mode locomotives of 4,500 horse power (HP) capacity each at Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) in Varanasi as a pilot project.Similar locomotives are in operation in the US and South Africa. 

Currently, 52% of Indian Railways’ trains are on diesel traction and the diesel locomotives are often replaced by electric engines on electrified route which cause delays. However, the dual-mode locomotives mean that there will be no need to change the locomotive for electric traction because the same diesel engine will be utilised on the electrified route. A dual-mode locomotive is estimated to cost about Rs. 18 crore, while a 4,500HP diesel locomotive costs about Rs. 13 crore. The dual-mode locomotive will be heavier than the diesel locomotive and is expected to run at a maximum speed of 135 km per hour.

The proposal has been forwarded to the Research Design and Standard Design (RDSO), the research wing of Indian Railways, to finalise specifications. After the RDSO approval, DLW will be manufacturing five of these locomotives on a pilot basis. The locomotives will then be introduced to the rail service on a trial basis at specific electrified routes.

While the national carrier is making the move to more affordable and cleaner energy, the company also recognizes that energy efficiency is also crucial. Not only is Indian Railways conducting an energy audit to estimate the amount of savings made as a result of the move to renewable energy, it is also planning a more efficient transmission system to carry the power generated, in an attempt to cut its power costs.

India’s renewable plans get thumbs up

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has placed renewable energy at the top of its energy security agenda. It aims to provide clean and renewable energy at less than Rs.4.50 per unit.

India needs as much as $250 billion to meet its target of installing 100GW of solar power and 60,000MW of wind power by 2022.

India’s utility scale solar project pipeline is growing rapidly, bringing the government’s ambitious solar goals closer. The installed capacity is currently 4.4GW and projects under development and allocation stand at an additional 10.9GW. The pipeline number is expected to grow further as new tenders are released.

While the market might still fall short of the 60GW target for utility scale projects, this market growth could make India a major global market over the next few years. With the renewable potential and government backing that India has, the country could well become the third or the fourth largest solar market in the world. [Renewable Energy Investment Heats Up In India].