Indian Institute of Science tests Solar Panels atop Chennai-Coimbatore Shatabdi Exp

solar panel on shatabdiChennai: An IISc team on Wednesday conducted a trial run of solar panels installed atop a special coach of the Coimbatore Shatabdi Express. Commenting on the experiment, Dr Sheela Ramasesha of IISc said, “A scientific analysis is necessary to prove the feasibility of such trains and frame guidelines.”

For the trials, the special sleeper class LHB coach was fitted with two flexible solar panels of 180 Watt each, matching the exact curved shape of the coach rooftops, at the ICF. Research fellows M Shravanth Vasisht and Vashishta Ademane travelled with the equipment to record the real-time data of solar power generated every minute.

The solar panel installed atop a coach
The solar panel installed atop a coach

Shatabdi was chosen as it moves at a high speed and has few stops. “A pyranometer — which measures the solar irradiance on the panels — and a vibration sensor have also been installed on the coach,” said Shravanth. He has been assigned to the ICF to monitor the fabrication of the panels.

As hundreds milled around the bustling Chennai Central Station premises early on Wednesday morning, a small team of people quietly made its way into the Coimbatore-bound Shatabdi Express with laptops and other gadgets. They were research fellows from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, who were taking the train ride from the city to test the feasibility of installing solar panels atop the trains. The Shatabdi Express had a special coach fitted with two solar panels for the trial run to collect necessary data.

This is the first phase of extensive field trials that will be conducted by the IISc team led by Dr Sheela Ramasesha and professor J Srinivasan after they published a study in the journal ‘Current Science’ calculating the solar power yielded by panels fitted on a slow-moving Yeshwantpur-Bhopal train for over 40 hours.

A crucial factor to be studied is how the speed of the train would affect the solar power generated, said Ramasesha. “When trains move at a high speed, there is greater wind thrust. The solar irradiance may not be the same at all times and at all locations,” explained Shravanth. In fact, during  Wednesday’s journey, there were many areas where the yield was less due to cloud cover.  Vibration sensors would help the scientists examine how train journeys could affect the body of the panel and help in future improvements.

“The yield of the panels on a moving vehicle depends on several factors such as the number of sunshine hours, insulation, travelling direction, etc.

Our idea was to record data on trains moving on a South-North and East-West course. Since Coimbatore is located on South-West, both components could be recorded,” said Ramasesha.

Shravanth said the initial trials yielded encouraging results, but added that it was only the first phase. “We will conduct trials on different routes with varied terrains, seasons and in locations with different humidity values,” he said. A test run in June at the onset of the monsoon would be the likely benchmark as the yield in hotter months would obviously be higher, he added. “We can’t randomly quote the amount of diesel that would be saved by such trains. We need to back it up with solid research and this is for that,” said Ramasesha.

We concluded, in theory, that 90,000 litres of diesel could be saved annually. But we wanted real-time data to record how much solar energy can actually be generated from the panels on a moving train where a number of other variables come into play,” said Ramasesha.

The study attracted a lot of inquiries from railway officials and soon Ramasesha and her team were interacting with the Indian Railway Alternate Fuels Organisation (IROAF) in June 2014 and it directed them to the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai for getting a custom-made coach for the experiments. “A scientific analysis is necessary to prove the feasibility of such trains and frame guidelines,” she said.

For the trials, a special sleeper class LHB coach was fitted with two flexible solar panels of 180 Watt each, matching the exact curved shape of the coach rooftops, at the ICF. Research fellows M Shravanth Vasisht and Vashishta Ademane travelled with the equipment to record the real-time data of solar power generated every minute.

The Shatabdi Express was chosen as it moves at a high speed and has lesser stops. “A pyranometer – which measures the solar irradiance on the panels – and a vibration sensor have also been installed on the coach,” said Shravanth. He has been assigned to the ICF to closely monitor the fabrication of the panels.

A crucial factor to be studied is how the speed of the train would affect the solar power generated, said Ramasesha.

“When trains move at a high speed, there is greater wind thrust. The solar irradiance may not be the same at all times and at all locations,” explained Shravanth. In fact, during  Wednesday’s journey, there were many areas where the yield was less due to cloud cover.

The vibration sensors would help the scientists examine how train journeys could affect the body of the panel and help in future improvements.

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