Railways shifting to solar power could cut emissions: Study
September 01, 2021

Nagpur: Direct supply of solar energy to Indian Railway lines, without the need to connect through the grid, would save almost 7 million tonnes of carbon a year while also powering at least one in four trains on the national network on competitive terms.

This was revealed in a new study by NGO Climate Trends and UK-based green tech start-up Riding Sunbeams. According to the annual report of Indian railways 2019-2020, there was a passenger traffic of over 8 billion in that period, which would mean that 2 billion passengers could be travelling on trains directly powered by solar energy.

The new analysis highlights that around a quarter of this new solar capacity — up to 5,272 megawatt — could be fed directly into the railway’s overhead lines instead of being procured over the electricity networks, reducing energy losses and saving money for the rail operator.

The researchers found that substituting energy supplied from the coal-dominated grid for private-wire supply from solar could also rapidly cut emissions by as much as 6.8million tonnes carbon dioxide each year — just over the entire annual emissions of Kanpur.

Stating that India is leading on rail electrification and solar power deployment, report co-author and founder of Riding Sunbeams Leo Murray said, “Our analysis shows that connecting these two keystone low-carbon technologies together in Indian Railways can drive both the country’s economic recovery from the Covid pandemic and its efforts to transition off fossil fuels to tackle the climate crisis.”

Highlighting that the government pumps large sums of money to modernise the railways, director of Climate Trends and co-author Aarti Khosla said, “There has been analysis that converting all diesel locomotives to electric will indeed increase the emissions in the short term, however, this report shows the tremendous opportunity of doing it right the first time, by creating a direct connection of the locomotive system to solar PV installations, meeting more than a quarter of the total demand.”

The researchers also warned, however, that achieving the target of full electrification of all routes by 2023 could be accompanied by an increase in CO2 emissions in the short term because of India’s current reliance on coal to produce electricity.

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