Developments in solar energy are one of the main ways that developing countries will be able to combat global warming. They provide a clean source of renewable energy that can help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels all around the world.
The railway system in India is a prime example of outdated technology that contributes massively to greenhouse emissions. In 2014, Indian Railways consumed 2.6 billion liters of diesel fuel. That amount accounts for almost 70 percent of the network’s total fuel bill.
However, Indian Railways recently announced its plans to reduce its total diesel fuel consumption. They rolled out a series of trains that have been outfitted with solar cells on the tops of the passenger coaches.
These solar cells are not intended to completely replace the diesel system. Instead, they are used to power passenger displays, lights, and fans inside the passenger coaches. The actual train will still be pulled by a diesel engine.
However, these small changes can potentially add up to significant savings. For each train with six solar powered coaches, the approximate savings is estimated to be around 21,000 liters of diesel fuel a year.
The most positive thing about this development is that it can positively impact the air quality of India. The first trains are set to begin operation in the most polluted city in the country, New Delhi. Once the trains are all converted in this area, they will then be rolled out to other major cities.
India Railways has set a rather lofty goal of 1,000 megawatts of solar energy production by 2020. This goal can then be scaled up to 5,000 megawatts by 2025. While they have only made small amounts or progress towards this goal, the developments of their solar powered coach program are definitely a step in the right direction.
India Railways is embracing new technology to help them save money and the environment. They recently debuted a train powered by solar panels fitted along its roof. It is the first train of its kind in India.
The solar panels will be used to power all of the train’s electrical needs. That includes the lighting, cooling system, and informational displays inside the passenger compartments of the train. It also features a battery bank to ensure there will be enough power even on cloudy days and during the nighttime.
This is part of a series of steps that India Railways is taking to become more environmentally friendly. Other methods they are using include water recycling, bio-toilets, and wind energy. They plan to continue increasing their use of alternative energy sources in order to cut back on the large amount of diesel typically used by their trains.
The locomotive that pulls the solar train will still be using diesel as its power source, but the other applications normally powered by diesel will instead be powered using the solar panels. The solar powered train is expected to save approximately 21,000 liters of diesel. That will amount to financial savings of ₹12 lakh each year.
That is still only a drop in the bucket for a company that uses around 2.6 billion liters of diesel in a year, but the reduction in diesel will increase as they continue to add more trains to their solar lineup. India Railways plans to generate 1,000 megawatts of solar power by 2020.
Solar energy is being utilized in all sorts of innovative ways, but Indian Railways seems to be the first train service to try installing solar panels on their coach cars. To be clear, the trains themselves will still be pulled by the traditional diesel engines, but the railroad hopes that installing the solar panels will cut costs and help make their trains more energy efficient.
The first solar-powered coaches are already in use, with sixteen solar panels installed on the roof of each car. The power generated by the panels runs the coaches’ lights, fans and display monitors and six solar-powered coaches can save the railroad about 21,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.
Indian Railways did have to overcome some challenges to get the coaches into operation. Space had to be carved out of the passenger area in order to hold the batteries which store the power in event of darkness or bad weather. The panels themselves are also expensive, although the railroad expects the installation costs to be recovered in a bit over 18 months.
The real question is the reliability of the solar panels. Unlike panels that are installed on a traditional house or office space, these panels will be subjected to vibrations, weather and road hazards. It’s not clear how the panels will hold up to the stress, which is why Indian Railways is describing this idea as a “test” until they have some time to judge the durability of the installed panels.
Still, it’s an idea with a lot of potential and the minister of the railroad recently described solar-powered coaches as a “path-breaking leap” towards making its cars more green.
Solar energy continues to become more integrated into common energy use. In several locations in the United States, solar panels on homes are a common sight. That was not the case 20 years ago. In India, something very uncommon is occurring and it may reflect the future of solar energy in the world. Trains with solar-powered coaches have arrived. With solar power as a source of energy, there won’t be as much of a need for diesel fuel. Diesel fuel is expensive. Solar energy could provide a massive cost-saving solution in the travel and train industry.
India now appears to be the test platform for solar-powered trains. Indian Railways is the company launching the initiative.
The rollout of the newly solar-powered trains starts in the suburban section of New Delhi. While the solar-powered generators were likely tested thoroughly long before their debut on actual in-service trains, there are probably some bugs to be worked out. This is why the rollout starts slow and expands over time. A massive rollout would not likely be wise since revisions and improvements may be necessary. Hopefully, for the success of the program, any necessary improvements will be minor ones.
Solar-powered vehicles, planes, trains, and more have been in various stages of planning and development for years. The lack of viable technology contributed to progress being slow. Significant interest and investment dollars in solar energy have advanced technology greatly leading to the arrival of solar-powered trains. A success in India could harken the expansion of these trains worldwide, a welcome advancement to be sure.