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.