Indian Railways can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 239 tonnes per year per train by fixing solar panels atop coaches
The railways' decision to experiment with solar energy to electrify train coaches can substantially reduce its carbon footprint, say researchers. Union railway minister D V SadanandaGowda in June announced a Rs 7-crore pilot project to electrify 30 train coaches with solar power. The solar-powered coaches will start plying within six months on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-Haryana routes.
A team of researchers from Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru calculate that installing photovoltaic panels atop coaches can reduce 239 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year per train, which is roughly equal to the annual emissions of 50 cars in the city. On an average, 11,000 trains ply in India every day. The researchers say the Railways can save close to Rs 60 lakh annually on each train by shifting to solar panels. Their paper on the use of solar energy to fuel railway coaches is scheduled to be published in Current Science journal.
Lead researcher Sheela K Ramasesha and her team calculated the energy consumption pattern of a train with 19 Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, which are used in superfast trains such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Durunto. The Railways plan to introduce LHB coaches in all the trains in the coming years.
They found that to make a 1,800 km trip, a rake (comprising of 19 LHB coaches) consumes 3,000 litres of diesel for auxiliary energy needs such as lighting and cooling. “Assuming that the rake makes 188 trips in a year, our calculations indicate that 90,804 litres of diesel can be conserved every year, with a saving of Rs 59,93,064, by putting solar panels on the train,” says Ramasesha.
The researchers suggest that the estimated price of an LHB rail coach with a solar power generation system is 4 per cent higher than the price of the present LHB coaches. The investment would be recovered within two-three years, they say.
Talking about the feasibility of the project, the paper says, “It is clear that the energy that can be harnessed during sunshine hours is much more than the requirements of the train even during the shorter days of winters.” The researchers, as a result, suggest the installation of batteries to store excess energy to be used at night.
While the Railways’ move to go green is positive, researchers say introducing solar panels in trains will not be easy. For one, it will be a constructional challenge to install the panels on curved train rooftops. “The solar panels need to be manufactured specially based on the dimensions suitable for mounting. We have submitted a design proposal to officials at the Railway Coach Factory in Kapurthala,” says ShravanthVasisht, one of the researchers. “We are waiting to get a nod from the Railways authorities to test our design,” he adds.
|How solar power fares on tracks
90,804 litres of diesel can be saved per train per year if they are fitted with solar panels. On an average, a train makes 188 trips a year
239 tonnes less Co2 will be emitted by each train per year if the Railways introduces solar panels on trains. The Co2 amount is roughly what 50 cars emit in a year
26 million tonnes less Co2 will be emitted by the Railways if all of the 11,000 trains are fitted with solar panels
Source: Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
The grey side
Wind speed The solar panels will be exposed to high wind speeds as trains move at a speed of 100-150 km/hr
Electric field Trains usually have electric lines above them. The magnetic field created by the lines might interfere with the solar power system
Cleaning The panels will require regular cleaning which might erode the thin film of semiconductors used in them
Weather Extreme weather conditions such as rains, dust storms and snow might destroy the solar panels
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