Despite being one of the most eco-friendly modes of transport, Indian Railways (IR) is one of the biggest energy consumers in the country, utilising about 18 billion units (BUs) per year. The energy bill of the railways stands at around Rs 300 billion, 60 per cent of which can be attributed to diesel traction, 35 per cent to electric traction and 5 per cent to uses other than traction. That said, IR is now giving greater importance to the efficiency and sustainability of energy use. To better manage its energy costs, IR is looking at procuring cheaper power, creating energy efficiencies and stepping up its renewable energy capacity. In June 2016, the Ministry of Railways (MoR) released a report on Environmental Sustainability for 2015-16 highlighting the key steps towards energy management. Notably, a lump sum provision of 1 per cent of total costs in all railway projects has been earmarked for environmental initiatives. This will also contribute to India’s intended national-determined contribution (INDC) of reducing its 2005 emission levels by 33 to 35 per cent by the year 2030.
Leveraging renewable energy potential
On the renewable energy front, IR is aiming at developing 1,200 MW of capacity to meet its energy needs. Over 80 per cent of this capacity will be added by projects in the solar segment and the remaining by wind and waste-to-energy (WtE) sources. IR has signed an MoU with Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL) to increase the uptake of renewable energy projects. Solar projects are likely to be implemented on a public-private partnership basis. In order to incentivise private players, IR will provide land/rooftops for the projects free of cost.
In August 2015, an MoU was signed between the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the MoR to bring about a change in the energy mix of the railways. Consequently, the Railway Budget 2015-16 proposed the installation of 1,000 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity in the next five years as part of the Solar Mission of Railways. About 50 per cent of this capacity is planned to be installed as solar units on rooftops of railway buildings through central financial assistance from the MNRE, 20 per cent will be through assistance from the MNRE under the Public Sector Undertakings Scheme and the remaining will be installed on vacant land with limited commercial value.
In the last two years, the railway sector has reported the commissioning of a number of solar energy projects. In 2015, a 1 MW solar power plant was set up at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra Railway Station in Jammu & Kashmir. The project is estimated to save up to Rs 10 million on energy bills annually. In 2014, a 2 MW solar plant was commissioned at the Rail Coach Factory, Rae Bareli. IR is also experimenting with solar-powered train coaches. Solar panel-fitted coaches run on narrow-gauge trains plying on the Pathankot-Jogindernagar route in the Kangra valley and on the Kalka-Shimla route. Further, the first broad gauge diesel electric multiple unit (DEMU) train with all its coaches equipped with solar panels is the Rewari-Sitapur passenger train, which is currently undergoing trial runs in Jodhpur. All its six coaches have 12 solar panels each, with 300 W of electricity being generated per solar panel. This is 3.6 kW of power for each coach and will be enough to power the coach’s lights and fans.
IR has also planned to install 168 MW of wind-based power plants. The majority of this capacity addition will be funded by REMCL, while only about 6 per cent will be funded by IR’s resources. REMCL will add capacity in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. In 2015, it commissioned a 26 MW wind power project in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, at a cost of Rs 1.6 billion. The plant is expected to generate over 50 MUs of electricity per annum. In 2009, IR had commissioned its first 10.5 MW wind project in Chennai which has an annual generation of 25.9 MUs.
Moreover, IR is also considering WtE projects, for which major terminal hubs and A-1 category stations are to be identified. A bio-waste processing plant has been set up at the Kishanganj Railway Colony in Delhi. The plant will convert biodegradable waste of the colony into compost and generate 70-80 kWh of electricity per tonne of waste. The plant itself will run on solar panels.
Efficient moves in traction
IR’s electric traction energy bill in 2015-16 was almost Rs 112.18 billion, with this function consuming around 15 billion units (BUs) of energy. IR is working towards reducing this cost by over Rs 30 billion by 2018-19. In the previous fiscal year, the electric traction bill was reduced by 2 per cent.
Several innovative green measures have been undertaken to reduce energy consumption. IR’s rolling stock is being upgraded with energy-efficient technologies and it has decided to produce only three-phase electric locomotives from 2016-17 onwards. These locomotives have efficient gate turn-off (GTO) propulsion systems which are equipped with regenerative braking features. These locomotives are able to regenerate up to 20 per cent of the electricity consumed, which is fed back into the grid and consumed by other trains running on those sections. This technology is expected to reduce 350-500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per locomotive annually. Further, several locomotives are being equipped with insulated gate bipolar transistor-based propulsion systems which are more energy efficient as compared to GTO-based systems.
IR has also adopted a system called head-on generation (HOG) to power train lighting, fans and air conditioning. The system produces power without any noise or burning any diesel, and hence is considered eco-friendly. Four trains using HOG are already running, including the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani, and 40 more are expected to be inducted.
The potential use of alternative fuels for traction energy is also being considered. IR has targeted blending of 5 per cent biodiesel in high speed diesel (HSD) by 2020 and 20 per cent by 2030. It further plans to convert 25 DEMU rakes to run with 20 per cent compressed natural gas (CNG) blending by 2020 and 100 rakes to run with fuel comprising 40 per cent CNG by 2030. The first CNG DEMU train was introduced in 2015 on the Rewari-Rohtak section of Northern Railway. Moreover, development of liquefied natural gas locomotives with 80 per cent substitution of HSD is under way.
Progress in the non-traction segment
On the non-traction front, IR was able to reduce its electric energy consumption by 3 per cent in 2015-16. Key initiatives include adoption of energy-efficient fittings such as light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs in train coaches and at railway stations, automation of energy-efficient pumps and water coolers and the replacement of 60 W fans with 35 W super-efficient ceiling fans.
Further, a pilot project using an online meter data acquisition system has been implemented at the Delhi and Ambala divisions for automatic and smart control of load types. Real-time monitoring and control of load will reduce wastage of power. Further, the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai has implemented the International Standard of Energy Management Systems (ISO 50001) to provide a framework on energy efficiency for railway organisations. The provisions of the Energy Conservation Building Code have also been adopted to develop green buildings for new rail projects.
Regular energy audits of electrical installations are being done to further bring down energy consumption by 10 to 15 per cent in the next few years. IR had already conducted 448 audits till March 2015. A recent audit by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency indicates that while the energy requirement in the non-traction segment increased by 4 per cent, energy consumption reported a 2 per cent reduction.
The way forward
The energy management policies implemented by IR will go a long way in reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the fact remains that the railways are plagued by several operational issues. IR will need to invest in the training and capacity building of personnel to implement these new measures. IR needs to regularly track the latest technological innovations in the energy sector and adopt them to increase efficiency. Problems such as inaccurate load forecasting, regulatory and policy challenges and inadequate institution building will need to be addressed.
IR aims to add about 10,000 km to the electrified network by 2019-20. With electrification being stepped up, the railways will have to improve energy management. To achieve the target of an 8-13 per cent reduction in traction energy consumption by 2030, more renewable energy projects will have to be sanctioned and their speedy execution will be paramount.