On the Right Track: Indian Railways takes steps towards sustainable energy use

Indian Railways takes steps towards sustainable energy use

Indian Railways is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 123,542 km of track over a route length of 67,415 km across 8,500 stations. In recent years, a lot of emphasis has been given to the electrification of Indian Railways in order to reduce the industry’s dependence on imported petroleum and enhance the country’s energy security. The aim is to provide an eco-friendly, fast and energy efficient mode of transportation. During the past five years, various projects have been sanctioned by the government keeping in mind cost savings and reduction in the carbon footprint.

Energy consumption trends

Indian Railways’ electricity consumption can be divided into two categories – traction and non-traction. All zonal railways that have an annual traction energy consumption of 70,000 metric tonnes of oil equivalent per year and above are considered as designated consumers. In PAT Cycle II, 16 zonal railways and six production units are included. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the electricity consumption, which can be attributed to a significant increase in route electrification during the same period. Of the total 67,415 route km (rkm), 34,319 rkm was electrified in 2018-19 as against 29,043 rkm in 2017-18. The total electricity consumption for traction purposes stood at 18.18 billion units (BUs) in 2018-19. To reduce the energy consumption in the traction segment, Indian Railways has taken several initiatives including:

  • Mission electrification: One of the major initiatives taken by Indian Railways switching to an energy efficient mode of traction, that is, from diesel to electric. It has planned to electrify major broad gauge routes in a mission mode. As a result, the pace of electrification has increased multifold, from 1,646 rkm in 2016-17 to 5,276 rkm in 2018-19. It is estimated that 100 per cent electrification of railways will save about 2.8 billion litres of diesel consumption per year and reduce 342 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
  • Three-phase regenerative locomotives: Indian Railways has taken steps to manufacture all new locomotives and electric multiple units (EMUs) with three-phase technology and regenerative capability. This will help save 15 per cent energy in locomotives and 30 per cent in EMUs.
  • Switch from conventional locomotives: To bring new technologies into the system, Indian Railways stopped the production of conventional locomotives on March 31, 2016, while the production of diesel locomotives was stopped from March 31, 2019.
  • Enhanced production of electric locomotives: The year 2018-19 saw the highest ever locomotive production, which included 625 electric locomotives and four diesel converted electric locomotives working as multi-units. The first-of-its-kind conversion of diesel locomotives into electric locomotives was undertaken on March 1, 2018. The Railway Board has identified 108 diesel locomotives in total for electric conversion during the midlife rehabilitation.
  • HOG (head-on-generation) trains: More and more trains are adopting the HOG system, thus reducing the consumption of diesel. All WAP-7 locomotives being produced by Indian Railways are fitted with hotel load converters (around 550 locomotives). Over 500 trains have adopted the HOG system, resulting in savings of over Rs 11 billion in operational costs. HOG power supply will eliminate the need for diesel engine sets for train lighting and air conditioning, thereby reducing carbon emissions, noise level and consumption of fossil fuels. Currently, around 440 mail/express trains are running with HOG. It is envisaged that once the entire process of HOG conversion is completed, it will result in CO2 emission savings of 200,000 tonnes annually.

Non-traction energy

The non-traction load of Indian Railways reduced from 2.5 BUs in 2014-15 to 2.27 BUs in 2018-19, an average decrease of 1.84 per cent per year, despite an increase in electric load (lifts and escalators) and addition of railway assets in station buildings such as air-conditioned waiting rooms and new platforms.  The various measures that have been taken to reduce energy consumption over the years are as follows:

  • 100 per cent green-powered stations: Indian Railways’ go-green and save electricity initiatives have proved to be immensely beneficial. Thirteen railway stations and 18 other railway buildings have been certified as green buildings by the Indian Green Building Council. In addition, 52 railway installations have been certified with GreenCo Ratings and 50 buildings (including four divisional hospitals) have been given star rating by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. Further, Indian Railways has issued a directive to adhere to super energy conservation and building codes in new buildings as well as for redevelopment of existing station buildings.
  • 100 per cent LED initiative: Indian Railways has achieved the target of 100 per cent LED lighting at all the railway stations and service buildings. In addition, all residential railway quarters are being provided with LED lights. This will improve the non-traction energy scenario and will reduce about 10 per cent of the total energy being utilised for non-traction applications. In addition, 70:30 circuit lighting is being deployed at platforms.

Renewable energy integration

Indian Railways plans to set up 1,000 MW of solar and 200 MW of wind power plants by 2020-21. Of this, about 204.82 MW of renewable power (101.42 MW solar and 103.4 MW wind power) capacity has already been set up. To further reduce fuel costs, it aims to install land-based solar plants across India on unutilised railway land. These will help meet the energy needs for both traction and non-traction applications. While 500 MW of rooftop solar plants, to be set up on railway buildings through developer mode, have been planned to meet non-traction loads, 500 MW of land-based solar plants have been planned to meet traction loads. Some of the projects that have been developed or are in the process of being commissioned under the 1,000 MW solar target are as follows:

  • A 3 MW plant that has been set up at the MCF, Raebareli
  • Purchase of 400 MW of renewable energy from the Rewa Ultra Mega Solar (RUMS) plant, a joint venture of the Solar Energy Corporation of India and the Madhya Pradesh government
  • A 50 MW solar plant being developed on vacant railway land in Bhilai
  • A 2 MW solar power plant being set up by Railway Energy Management Company Limited at Diwana (near Panipat) for Northern Railway
  • A 1.7 MW solar power plant being set up by BHEL at Bina for West Central Railway.

Some of the projects that have been set up or are in the process of being commissioned under the 200 MW wind target are as follows:

  • The 10.5 MW of capacity that has been set up at ICF, Chennai
  • A 26 MW plant at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
  • A 10.5 MW plant installed in Tamil Nadu
  • A 50.4 MW plant installed in Sangli district of Maharashtra
  • A 6 MW plant installed in Sangli district of Maharashtra.

Indian Railways is also taking some noteworthy sustainability initiatives for developing “energy-neutral” stations. Recently, South Central Railway (SCR) has developed 13 railway stations as energy-neutral stations including the Kadiyam, Dwarapudi and Godavari railway stations in the Vijayawada division. The total expenditure incurred in the development of these three stations was around Rs 1.95 million. These stations have been installed with solar panels. The solar power is utilised to make the stations energy-neutral through net metering. The SCR zone expects that the solar power generated at these stations will lead to savings of Rs 1.3 million per year. The entire power requirement of these energy-neutral railway stations to run lights, fans, pumps and other electrical appliances is met through solar energy, bringing down their net traditional energy consumption to zero.

Overall, as of March 2020, 23 railway stations across zonal railways have been made energy neutral, both under the capex and RESCO (renewable energy service company) models. Besides, 31 stations are planned to be made energy neutral on the RESCO model.

The way forward

Going forward, the Ministry of Railways has announced plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. In addition, it plans to electrify the balance broad gauge routes by December 2023. According to this plan, 6,000 km of broad gauge routes will be electrified in 2020-21 and another 6,000 km of tracks will be electrified in 2021-22. In the financial year 2022-23, 6,500 km of routes will be electrified. The electrification of the remaining 4,310 km of tracks will be completed by December 2023.

An increase in electricity consumption would further open up an opportunity for both conventional and renewable power generation players. There is also immense scope for improvement in energy efficiency in the railway sector through the adoption of innovative energy efficiency technologies and solutions and international best practices.