Sunday, November 1, 2015

Solar Powered Railways

By Anton Antonio
November 2, 2015

The railroad, as a mass transport system, started in 1810 in the United States.  The efficiency and relatively lower cost compared to other modes of land-based transport made it acceptable to other parts of the world.  India adopted the railways as their main system of transportation.  India, however, is having second thoughts about the sustainability of their railroad transport system which is largely dependent on fossil fuel.  Please read…


India has recently stepped it up in terms of the government’s support of renewable energy through its effort in moving from coal powered railways to clean solar panels for electricity and fuel consumption.  The Indian Railways is one of the largest railway systems in the world, consisting of over 115,000 km of tracks, over 65,436 km of routes, and 1,172 stations.  Annually, it has the capacity to transport over 8 billion people, which is roughly around 23 million passengers per day.  As such, the Indian Railways or known as IR, requires massive energy expenditures – specially 17.5 kWh of electricity per year, and over 90,000 liters of diesel.  Fuel bills are actually the 2nd largest expense of the IR, coming only next to employee salaries.  With rising process of fuel imports, the Indian government has begun focusing on other forms of energy to power the coaches, specifically solar energy.  Recently, the first solar powered coach was tested, which is a non-airconditioned coach with collar panels installed on its rooftop.  The Rewari-Sitapur passenger train was able to generate 17 kWh for an entire day, which was enough to cover only the lighting load of the coach.  Two other coaches have been fitted with solar panels, but are yet to begin their testing stage.  These said coaches belong to 2 narrow-gauge trains for the Pathankot-Jogindemagar route in the Kangra Valley and the Kalka-Shimla section.  This massive project and potential move to clean energy is touted to solve two major problems faces by the IR today: rising energy prices and the threats to environment caused by the massive use of fossil fuels.  Ideally, the trains will still be powered by traditional diesel-run engines, but the lighting of the passenger coaches will utilize solar energy.  According to a Northern Railway official, there is a total of 40 square meter of space on a typical coach rooftop.  The said coach was fitted with 12 solar panels over 24 square meters, but the remaining 16 square meters can still accommodate 16 more panels for more energy production.  Officials say that India has a huge potential for solar power, and the installation of solar panels are not limited to the train’s rooftops, but can also include those of the railway’s buildings to provide renewable energy for its infrastructure.  The typical cost for fitting panels on one coach is Rs 3.90 lakh, and its return on investment per year is Rs 1.24 lakh.  The potential savings of millions of dollars can also include that of foreign exchange reserves in terms of diesel imports.  Aside from solar power’s obvious economic benefits for the IR, the use of clean collar power also reduces their emission of carbon dioxide by over 200 tonnes in a year.  Currently, the Indian government is planning to create a solar policy that would lead the way to the production of 1000 megawatts of solar power in the next 5 years.  The main aim of the said policy states that by the year 2020, the IR’s renewable energy production will be able to provide at least 10% of the entire enterprise’s energy consumption need.  Today, the project is aimed at a few rooftops lighting up a few non-airconditioned coaches.  Future testing is still needed to understand the economics of the proposal before it is implemented on a larger scale.  So far, results have been promising and further positive data might just lead the Indian Railways to utilize the use of clean solar energy for all of its coaches.” ---

The Philippines has embarked on a railroad rehabilitation program to fix both north and south lines (to and from Metro Manila).  At this point of the program, it may be wise to consider clean solar energy to power before the program is finally completed.  This will not only revive this efficient mass transportation system but push it forward to the needs of the future.  Like India, why can’t the Philippines have solar powered railways.

Thoughts to promote positive action…

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REFERENCE:, (2015). “India Investigates Moving from Fossil Fuel-Powered Railways to Clean Railways to Clean Solar Energy”.  Retrieved on November 2, 2015 from