Renewable Energy Uptake: Indian Railways lays the tracks for greater energy efficiency

Indian Railways lays the tracks for greater energy efficiency

Accounting for almost a quarter of the ordinary working expenses of Indian Railways (IR), energy has emerged as one of its key focus areas. The carrier’s energy expenditure stood at Rs 290.22 billion in 2014-15, then declined substantially to Rs 273.31 billion in 2015-16, after which it increased to Rs 282.53 billion in 2016-17 and Rs 294.78 billion in 2017-18. One of the biggest priorities for IR has been the electrification of its network. To accelerate the electrification of railway lines, the carrier is implementing a programme, Mission 41K, with the aim of saving energy worth Rs 410 billion.

Besides electrification, renewable sources of energy are being developed in a concerted manner. By 2020, Indian Railways aims for 10 per cent of its total power needs to be met from renewable sources, and is targeting a 25 per cent green energy share by 2025. Plans are under way for setting up 1,000 MW of solar plants and 200 MW of wind plants by 2020. The carrier has also been working on other strategies for energy cost management such as using open access power, LEDs and setting up captive power plants.

Energy trends

For the most part, Indian Railway’s energy bills mainly account for expenditure on electricity (35 per cent) and diesel (65 per cent).

Over the course of five financial years from 2012-13 to 2016-17, traction energy consumption grew from 14.58 billion kWh in 2012-13 to 15.67 billion kWh in 2016-17, vis-à-vis the consumption of non-traction energy that reduced from 2.48 billion kWh in 2012-13 to 2.39 billion kWh in 2016-17. In 2016-17, Indian Railway’s total electricity bill stood at Rs 112.62 billion, of which Rs 94.75 billion was towards traction costs and Rs 17.87 billion was towards non-traction costs.

Meanwhile, Indian Railways consumes about 3.5 per cent of the country’s total diesel output. During the period 2012-13 to 2016-17, diesel consumption followed an upward trend until 2015-16, after which it declined to reach 2.79 million kilolitres in 2016-17. Expenditure on diesel exhibited a mixed trend, though growing overall at a compound annual growth rate of 6.07 per cent. In 2016-17, the total spending on diesel for traction stood at Rs 170.06 billion.

Indian Railway’s strategy and initiatives

To improve energy strategies and initiatives for traction, Indian Railway’s Energy Plan (drafted in 2015) had facilitated the direct procurement of power, assigned it deemed licensee status and instituted Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL) to manage its energy needs. Indian Railways has further partnered with the Ministry of Power, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United States Agency for International Development to develop its energy plans. Increasing efficiencies in energy consumption are now also coming under the scope of the Perform Achieve Trade (PAT) scheme.

On the operations front, a number of solutions are being considered, such as ramping up the production of three-phase locomotives with regenerative features and head-on generation trains. Further, measures such as shutting down locomotives and multiple electrical units while idling, monitoring of regeneration and battery-cum-electric locomotives are also being undertaken.

Going forward, Indian Railways plans to convert all its surplus diesel engines to electric ones to reduce its dependency on diesel, as diesel engines cost almost double to run vis-à-vis electric ones. The first such engine was made operational on February 28, 2018. It was a 2,800 HP diesel engine which was converted to a 5,000 HP electric engine in a period of just 68 days. On April 10, 2018, Indian Railways flagged off India’s first 12,000 HP high speed electric locomotive from the Madhepur loco factory in Bihar. Prior to this, Indian Railway’s most powerful engine was of 6,000 HP.

Regarding non-traction energy, Indian Railway’s strategy involves undertaking regular energy audits and making its buildings more energy efficient (by almost 40 per cent) as per Energy Conservation Building Code guidelines. The judicious use of energy, the use of only star-rated equipment, deployment of energy efficient pumping installations, etc. are also a part of its non-traction strategy. An important milestone in this regard has been the conversion of all Indian Railways stations to 100 per cent LED-lit stations as of March 2018.

Progress and achievements

Under Mission 41K, aimed at saving a corpus of Rs 410 billion in electric traction costs by 2025, Indian Railways succeeded in achieving cumulative savings of Rs 64.27 billion between April 2015 and January 2018. This figure is expected to go up further to Rs 69.27 billion for the April 2015-March 2018 period, which is Rs 10 billion above the stipulated target. To reduce its fuel expenditure, Indian Railways has prepared an action plan to electrify (commission on electric traction) 38,000 route km (rkm) in five years (2017-18 to 2021-22), in order to achieve 100 per cent electrification on all broad gauge routes. In 2017-18, it electrified about 4,087 rkm of its tracks and set a target to electrify 9,000 rkm in 2018-19.

Another course of action adopted by Indian Railways to reduce its outlay on energy has been the direct purchase of power in the open market through power purchase agreements (PPAs). So far, over 1,275 MW of power is drawn via this route, with proposals on the anvil for another 1,000 MW. The current annual savings estimated through this measure stand at Rs 23.25 billion, and are likely to reach Rs 40 billion by 2018-19.

Further, Indian Railways plans to expand its own transmission network of 600 km (Dadri-Kanpur [400 km] and Kanpur-Allahabad [200 km]) to a length of 20,000 km, of which 8,850 km will span the Golden Quadrilateral and 300 km will span dedicated freight corridors (DFCs).

Indian Railways has also set up new captive power plants. Bhartiya Rail Bijlee Company Limited (a joint venture [JV] between Indian Railways and NTPC) has set up a captive power plant in Bihar with a total installed capacity of 1,000 MW. REMCL has tied up 755 MW from this facility by way of a PPA. The power tariff is set at Rs 4.40 per unit, and is expected to yield annual savings of around Rs 2 billion. Further, Indian Railways and NTPC, in a JV, are setting up a 1,320 MW coal-based captive power plant at Adra in West Bengal. Another gas-based captive power plant has been planned at Thakurli in Maharashtra with estimated savings of Rs 2 billion per annum.

Indian Railways is also adopting insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) systems with a regenerating braking feature for energy conservation. So far, more than 1,000 electric locomotives equipped with three-phase IGBT-type propulsion systems and regenerative braking have been introduced. In Mumbai, 200 electric multiple unit rakes with three-phase IGBT-based propulsion systems and regenerative braking have been introduced so far.

Focus on green energy

Indian Railways aims to adopt renewable energy in a big way, with its expected contribution to the energy mix targeted to reach 25 per cent by 2025, for which at least 5,000 MW of cumulative solar and wind energy will be needed.

So far, of the 1,200 MW of renewable energy planned to be set up by 2020, an operational capacity of 50.5 MW of solar and 36.5 MW of wind power has already been achieved, as of March 2018.

UNDP is working with Indian Railways to set up 5 GW of solar power by 2025. The project entails the installation of solar power on platform sheds at over 8,500 stations and buildings (rooftop), apart from ground-mounted projects. Ground-mounted/ Land-based projects will be spread across over 65,000 km of track-side land, in addition to a land bank of 44,000 hectares. Under Phase I of the project, solar power potential has been assessed in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Although a major share of renewable energy will come from solar, Indian Railways also plans to procure about 200 MW of wind power by 2020. The organisation has commissioned a 10.5 MW plant (with banking facilities) at the Integral Coach Factory, Tamil Nadu, for non-traction use and 26 MW of wind capacity in Rajasthan for traction use. Wind power projects amounting to 16.5 MW (6 MW in Maharashtra and 10.5 MW in Tamil Nadu) have been awarded and are under construction as of March 2018. With reverse bidding proving to be successful in the segment, the utility is planning to tender the remaining 147 MW of capacity through competitive bidding.

The way forward

Going forward, the progressive and rapid electrification of railway tracks is expected to raise the energy requirement of Indian Railways by 5-6 per cent, with 200-400 MW of additional power required over the next three years. Further, around 200 MW of power has been estimated for the DFCs by 2020. While Indian Railways is looking to incorporate renewables into its energy mix, significant focus will also need to be laid on increasing energy efficient rolling stock, and pushing ongoing programmes such as Mission Electrification, which is currently behind target, achieving only 10-15 km of progress per day. At this rate, it will take at least 10 years for the carrier to meet its 100 per cent electrification target, instead of the planned four to five years. Therefore, mechanised operations will be imperative to increase the pace of programme implementation, along with greater participation from the industry.