India’s railways turn to solar power to meet energy needs

4 Februari 2020

One thing most of India has in abundance all year round is sunshine and Asia’s second most populist nation with ever-growing energy needs is seeking to exploit that renewable resource in novel ways. One such way involves installing solar panels alongside railway tracks to boost renewables capacity.

Indian Railways says the move will lead to the generation of 1,000 MW by 2022. By 2030 it should result in an extra added capacity of 5 gigawatt. “The railways has planned to tap solar power to lower its expenses,” says V.K. Yadav, chairman of the board at the railway company. “The railways plans to become self sufficient in solar power by 2030.”

That’s an ambitious plan since so far only 100.99 MW of solar capacity, with an equal amount of wind power, has been installed by India Railways. Last year the country’s trains consumed 18 billion units of electricity, which amounted to 1.27% of India’s total power consumption.

“With 100 per cent electrification and rail traffic projected to grow, it is estimated that railways will be consuming around 28-30 billion units for its traction requirement,” Yadav says. “The requirement is expected to increase further with commissioning of dedicated freight corridor routes and decongestion of railway routes.”

The scheme to power India’s trains with solar energy is part of the country’s National Solar Mission, an action plan that seeks to wean the South Asian nation off its heavy dependence on coal in electricity generation. The aim is to reduce endemic air pollution and the country’s large (and growing) carbon footprint.

By 2022 India’s government wants to boost the country’s renewable energy capacity to 175 gigawatts. Last year its renewable capacity increased by 16% to a total of 85.9 GW. At the same time, however, coal-fired capacity also rose by 3.9% to 198.5 GW.

As its energy needs keep on growing, India will need to find sustainable low-carbon solution if it is to avoid polluting its air even more. India also wants to rein in its carbon emissions in its bid to mitigate climate change, the effects of which are already taking a toll on local communities and ecosystems.

To give solar power more of a leg-up, policymakers have floated the idea of encouraging farmers to install solar panels on barren pieces of land in sunshine-rich areas. “A scheme to enable farmers to set up solar power generation capacity on their barren/fallow lands and to sell it to the grid would be operationalized,” says Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman.

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