Indian Railways (IR) is a bulk consumer of electricity in the country. In 2017-18, it consumed 18.98 billion units (BUs) of power, of which 16.63 BUs was used for traction load and 2.35 BUs for non-traction applications. The current power requirement of Indian Railways is 2,000 MW, which is expected to increase to 2,500 MW over the next five years. Around 25 per cent of IR’s total working expenditure is accounted for by energy costs on electricity and diesel.
Thus, energy efficiency and conservation is a key priority for the transport behemoth. To reduce its energy costs and carbon footprint, IR has made 100 per cent electrification of its network a key priority. Its plan is to electrify around 38,000 route km (rkm) between 2017-18 and 2021-22 to ensure 100 per cent electrification of its broad gauge rail network. This will entail a total investment of $7 billion. A number of energy conservation efforts have been made from time to time. In fact, IR is a lead signatory to India’s Nationally Determined Contributions by committing to reduce 20 per cent of fresh water consumption by 2030 and to reduce carbon emissions by 32 per cent over the base year 2005 by improving rail traction energy and fuel efficiency.
In January 2017, IR launched its Mission 41k with a target of saving Rs 410 billion in electric traction costs by 2025. This initiative was launched against the backdrop of growing electricity consumption and expenditure on traction that peaked in 2014-15 at 15.74 billion kWh and Rs 103.58 billion respectively.
Indian Railways’ total network spans 67,368 rkm. As per tentative figures, till March 2019, close to 35,000 rkm had been commissioned on electric traction and work on the remaining routes is under way. Three zonal railways – East Coast Railway, South East Central Railway and South Eastern Railway – had achieved more than 85 per cent electrification till March 2019.
In line with IR’s vision of 100 per cent electrification, there will be a requirement of 2,173 electric locomotives between 2019-20 and 2021-22. The actual production for the period 2016-17 to 2018-19 stood at 1,296 electric locomotives. For the first time, Indian Railways has converted a diesel locomotive into an electric one at Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and it was flagged off in February 2019.
Other energy conservation efforts
Leveraging open access has been a key initiative of Indian Railways in reducing its energy cost. Earlier, it procured electricity for traction applications as an ordinary consumer and thus paid high tariffs. However, in May 2014, it achieved the status of deemed licensee under Section 14 of the Electricity Act 2003. As a result, in 2017-18, through sourcing power from the open access route, Indian Railways has been able to achieve savings of around Rs 30 billion. Almost the entire power requirement of 2,000 MW has been tied up and around 1,160 MW of power has started flowing in 2017-18.
Another priority for Indian Railways is to use renewable energy extensively to bring down the cost of non-traction power. According to Railway Energy Management Company Limited, rooftop solar plants of 50 MW have already been installed. Contracts for 157 MW of such projects have been awarded and 95 MW is at the tendering stage. A further capacity addition of 248 MW has been planned. As for ground-mounted solar projects, there are three in the pipeline – a 2 MW pilot project along the railway track on the Delhi-Ambala section of Northern Railways with direct connectivity to the traction system, 50 MW from installations on railway land in Chhattisgarh and 400 MW through REWA Ultra Mega Solar Limited. Besides, about 97.4 MW of wind energy projects have been commissioned, of which 47 MW has been commissioned under the engineering, procurement and construction mode and the remaining under the tariff-based bidding model.
Indian Railways is also registered as a “designated consumer” under the PAT cycle 2. It has 22 identified “designated consumers”, which include 16 zonal railways for traction, having an annual energy consumption of more than 30,000 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) or above along with six production units.
Another important area for energy conservation has been the deployment of LEDs. In January 2019, Indian Railways claimed to have installed 100 per cent LED luminaries on all electrified stations, except those under gauge conversion as well as on 99 per cent of service buildings.
Net, net, with the railway sector expected to continue to witness strong growth over the next few years, its green initiatives will go a long way in reducing its carbon footprint as well as improving finances through reducing its energy costs.