Saving Energy, Saving Costs: Railway electrification gaining traction

Railway electrification gaining traction

In order to reduce its high operating costs and carbon footprint, Indian Railways (IR) has set an ambitious target of 100 per cent electrification for broad gauge rail routes in the next two to three years. Further, the national transporter plans to become a 100 per cent net zero operator in the next 9-10 years. The pace of electrification has gathered momentum since 2014. With rapid electrification, the Central Organisation for Railway Electrification has been able to achieve substantial savings in foreign exchange reserves since a large component of petroleum-based energy resources is still imported.

Progress so far

IR launched Mission Electrification to electrify about 34,000 rkm by December 2023 for achieving 100 per cent electrification target for broad gauge rail routes at a total cost of around Rs 350 billion. Since 2014, IR has been able to electrify a total of 24,080 rkm. The electrification target for the year 2019-20 was set at 6,000 rkm but electrification could only be achieved for 4,378 rkm. The shortfall in progress in 2019-20 was primarily on account of the Covid-19 outbreak during the last quarter of 2019-20, which was the peak season for the execution of projects. Hence, the works which could not be commissioned in 2019-20 were taken up during 2020-21. IR was able to electrify 6,015 rkm during 2020-21, the highest-ever electrification logged in a single year.

Due to rapid route electrification, IR was able to reduce its diesel fuel bill by over Rs 80 billion during 2020-21, a significant amount of savings for the cash-strapped national transporter. Further, IR reduced its diesel consumption from 3.06 billion litres in 2018-19 to 1.43 billion litres in 2020-21 as more and more diesel locomotives were replaced with electric ones.

Meanwhile, with the recent electrification of the Nimmita-New Farakka rail stretch, the Eastern Railway zone stands 100 per cent electrified. The move is expected to increase rail speed as well as reduce the carbon footprint in the environment.

A gamut of initiatives

IR has taken a host of initiatives to reduce both traction and non-traction consumption. In order to reduce traction consumption, trailing locomotives of multi-units hauling empty freight trains are switched off to save energy; an auxiliary power unit has been provided in 986 diesel the locomotives to reduce fuel consumption when locomotive is idle; the use of energy efficient three-phase technology with regenerative features for electric locomotives is being promoted; energy consumption on electric locomotives is being monitored through microprocessor-based energy meters; idling of diesel locomotives is being monitored through remote monitoring and management of locomotives and trains; all diesel locomotives that are over 31 years old are being grounded; and a head-on generation system has been introduced in trains to reduce diesel fuel consumption in power cars.

With regard to a reduction in non-traction consumption, IR has envisaged annual savings of Rs 11 billion in its electricity bill following the adoption of LEDs, renewable energy and open access in non-traction areas. Further, a provision has been made for the use of energy efficient LED lights and only star-rated energy efficient equipment in all railway installations including railway stations, service buildings, residential quarters and coaches. Meanwhile, IR has been undertaking regular energy audits at consumption points. So far, energy efficiency studies of six production units and four workshops have been conducted and up to 15 per cent energy efficiency improvement has been achieved.

The national transporter has also undertaken a number of initiatives with regard to the use of solar and wind energy. It has planned to source around 1,000 MW of solar power and 200 MW of wind power by 2021-22 across zonal railways and production units. Of this, 500 MW of solar plants are to be installed atop railway buildings to meet non-traction loads at stations. The Ministry of Railways plans to use its surplus land to generate 20 GW of renewable energy from solar or wind equipment, set up under the Made in India initiative, to power the IR network.

In a notable development, in July 2020, IR had successfully set up a solar plant at Bina, Madhya Pradesh, to directly power railways’ overhead lines. As per the latest updates, IR currently has 203 MW of installed renewable capacity (100 MW rooftop solar and 103 MW wind).

The way forward

The successful achievement of the 100 per cent electrification target will make IR the first major railway in the world to have fully electrified a broad gauge railway network of this size. However, in order to achieve the stated target, IR will have to electrify nearly 9,500 rkm annually in the coming years. While the national transporter utilised the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to speed up its electrification process, the new waves of the coronavirus, fresh lockdowns and increased restrictions might have a bearing on its future targets.