Indian Railways (IR) is the single largest consumer of energy in the country, with a consumption of about 2 per cent of the total power generation per year or around 18.25 TWh annually.
As India strives to meet its climate goals by 2030, one of the key sectors identified for decarbonisation is the rail transport system. A prerequisite for decarbonisation is electrification, which implies transition to an electrified rail network from a diesel-powered network. Thus, IR, in January 2017, unveiled a plan to save Rs 410 billion over the next 10 years through an integrated energy management system. Named the Indian Railways’ Mission 41K initiative, it envisages the electrification of 24,000 km of rail track over the next five years. A slew of measures has been planned under the mission, including significant augmentation of its renewable energy consumption. A look at IR’s energy consumption trends, energy efficiency plans as well as the challenges ahead…
Energy is the second biggest expenditure item of the organisation, accounting for 24 per cent of its ordinary working expenses.
Currently, of the 66,500 route km operated by IR, only 42 per cent is electrified. As of March 2016, about 65 per cent of freight and 51.3 per cent of passenger traffic was hauled by electric traction with the remaining being hauled using diesel. Almost Rs 160 billion is spent on diesel consumption annually by the railways and the move to an electrified railway network is expected to reduce its diesel bill by almost Rs 80 billion-Rs 100 billion annually.
Under Mission 41K, IR plans to increase electrification to almost 90 per cent of the 58,825 km of broad gauge network by electrifying another 24,400 km in the next five years. As a part of the plan, it would double the annual rate of electrification from 2,000 km in 2016-17 to 4,000 km in 2017-18 and 6,000 km in 2018-19. To this end, the railways will award contracts based on the engineering, procurement and construction model for railway electrification projects.
IR’s Mission 41K has enthused a number of power sector equipment players as they seek to participate in electrification tenders, the setting up of transmission lines, the implementation of SCADA, installation of substations and transformers, etc. to support its electrification requirements. In order to accelerate the pace of electrification, IR recently announced plans to issue larger electrification tenders. Instead of issuing tenders for only 30-40 km, it will now give tenders for a minimum of 500 km of track.
Other energy efficiency initiatives
The railways has also targeted 5 GW of solar deployment across the country by 2025 through ground-mounted (4.5 GW) and rooftop solar systems (0.5 GW). This is nearly five times the 2015 Budget target, which was to reach 1 GW of solar and 200 MW of wind energy capacity by 2020. IR currently has an installed capacity of 53 MW (16 MW of solar and 37 MW of wind). Overall, 40 per cent of cumulative electricity generation capacity is targeted through renewable energy by 2030. Further, new technologies are also being explored to drive down fuel consumption in diesel electric multiple units (DEMUs). In July 2017, it floated a tender inviting applicants to work on its diesel locomotives and develop systems that will ensure that 40 per cent of diesel is substituted by compressed natural gas in a standard duty cycle of a DEMU. The use of B5 (5 per cent biodiesel) blends of biodiesel in diesel locomotives is also being undertaken by the railways.
IR is also planning to switch to procuring part of its electricity requirements directly from the market through the bidding route for both short- and long-term contracts. To further reduce its energy costs, it is setting up its own captive power plants. LED lights and bulbs are also proposed to be installed across all railway stations, trains and offices.
Keeping in view the fact that IR’s energy requirements are expected to almost triple from their current levels by 2030, the energy efficiency strategies outlined by the railways are expected to pave the way for a more sustainable future for one of the largest rail networks in the world.