Indian Railways boosts Energy Mission

नई दिल्ली New Delhi: Indian railways with an operating route length of more than 65,000km is the world’s fourth longest rail network. It carried about eight billion passengers (the highest in the world) and 1.01 million tonnes of freight (fourth highest in the world) in 2013. In a commendable effort the IR is now giving boost to the country’s energy mission by shifting its focus towards renewable energy.

One of the most recent efforts made by the railways in the renewable sector is its announcement of a Solar Policy. The Solar Policy is expected to envisage the procuring of 1000 MW Solar Power over the next five years. This will be done under viability gap funding support and Central Financial Assistance schemes of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

The statistics from the Ministry of Railways says so far Indian Railways has harnessed solar energy of about 10 MW capacity at about 500 Railway stations, 4000 LC gates and at number of rooftop spaces of office buildings, hospitals, workshops besides solar based water heating applications at training institutes, retiring rooms and running rooms.

On Tuesday the railways has commissioned a 30 kW Solar Plant at roof top of Rail Bhawan in New Delhi. This plant, capable of sourcing power to about 800 light fittings, will generate about 45,000 kWh per annum besides annual saving of about Rs.4 lakhs in electricity bills. It has further plans to provide solar plants of another 10 MW capacity at 200 Railway stations.

Setting an example to many, the railways has taken several initiatives to protect the environment, addressing the challenges of changes in global climate, promoting sustainable development and reducing dependence on fossil fuel.

In November this year Railways has announced that it will start using Bio-Diesel up to 5% of the total fuel consumption in diesel locomotives.

Indian Railways has also set up an Indian Railways Organisation for Alternate Fuels (IROAF) to promote Bio-Diesels and other environmentally benign alternate fuels. They have also been given the mandate to facilitate setting up of trans-etherification facilities for converting plant residues into Bio-Diesels. These facilities could be set up in the country on the PPP mode.

Being the single largest bulk consumer of diesel in the country, Railways’ efforts will help India cut the fuel bill.

Diesel locomotives cater to a large segment of rail traffic in the country, hauling both passenger and freight trains. Indian Railways consume over two billion litres of diesel every year. For this Railways have to foot a bill of over Rs.15000 crore annually.

Therefore, even a small reduction in fuel consumption through blending with Bio-Diesel will result in a substantial savings in the fuel bill. In addition, the attendant benefits of a cleaner environment would also accrue on account of lower carbon emission, without requiring any change in the locomotive design.

But there are immense challenges also. In order to generate interest in bio-diesel, adequate quantities of bio-diesel will have to be made available at competitive and attractive prices.

To achieve this, setting up of raw material supply chain would be necessary. This is a big challenge in a country where neither edible oils nor other oils are surplus to the requirement.