Indian Railways, the single largest consumer of electricity in the country with close to 2 percent share in national consumption has been pushing on all fronts to turn towards greener sources for electrification and decarbonisation.
In the most recent Lok Sabha session, Rajen Gohain, Minister of State in the Ministry of Railways in the Lok Sabha shared the details of multiple initiatives that the Railways had undertaken. For solar panels and plants at railway stations, he informed the assembly that 78 railway stations across Kerala based on feasibility of the stations have been selected for installation of solar rooftop panels. Kannur skyway has work in progress for 100 KW solar project. Southern Railway has fixed solar panels at two railway stations across Kerala: at Thalassery of 3 KW and at Parli station of 2 KW capacity. Though laughably small, one assumes these installations are pilot runs that will lead to bigger moves soon.
Gohain in response to a question stated, “Indian Railways has provided solar panels on rooftop of 19 narrow gauge (Northern Railway) and three broad gauge non-air-conditioned coaches in service (one each by Northern Railway, West Central Railway & Southern Railway) for use of electrical energy in train lighting system, on trial basis.”
He also added, “Further, Railways has taken decision to provide solar panel on rooftop of general coaches of two day-running intercity trains in Northern and Southern Railway and 50 percent narrow gauge coaches plying on Pathankot – Joginder Nagar route in Kangra Valley section and Kalka-Shimla section of Northern Railway for conducting extended trials for one year in all weather conditions. In addition, solar panels have been provided on six non-AC trailer coaches of Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU).”
The railways have been looking at all feasible options and locations to reduce their carbon footprint. And the efforts of the railway board can be gauged from the continuous developments, tenders and projects being launched. Last year, the board awarded a total of 30 MW of rooftop solar contracts to Azure Power (20 MW) and Fourth Partner Energy (10 MW). A month prior to that Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL) successfully auctioned 67.38 MW of rooftop solar projects for the Indian Railways.
And just last month, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said, “Indian Railways is going green in a big way and plans to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2030.” He also reiterated the desire of the entity to reach its 5 GW solar capacity at the earliest.
We believe that entities like the railways, the Airports Authority of India, the defence services, and even the ports authorities and larger universities across the country need a special boost to ensure they move towards decarbonisation faster. By virtue of being large consumers of energy, and with huge tracts of land holdings in their control, these entities are probably best placed to push ahead on rooftop solar, which has been languishing under multiple rules and regulations for a while now.