Time to use Solar Power to move our Trains

The zero-fuel aeroplane Solar Impulse-2 is perhaps the brightest example as to how solar power can best be harnessed for societal welfare. This is only applied quality science, which Indian entrepreneurs and policy makers have long forgotten, rather selfishly.

This apart, the Solar Impulse-2 is definitely one of the most encouraging examples of how enterprise and innovation can be matched to create beneficial ideas for the larger society, a fact which is seriously absent among Indian business communities.

It is a wishful thinking that the Indian business communities should have taken a leaf or two from such innovative efforts in energy, instead of investing time about profiteering without national development, as we find in the coal blocks issues.

The Swiss businessmen-cum explorers André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard have shown innovation par excellence which is generally absent in Indian entrepreneurs.

Solar Impulse is an airplane known to have perpetual endurance capacities, and is capable of flying day and night on solar power, without aviation fuel. The cockpit and the engines function on electricity inseminated by constantly harnessed solar power. Such harnessing is possible even in cloudy sky, as solar power does not get lost in clouds.

According to records, initially the success rate was reported to have been slim. With innovation of a prototype called HB-SIA, the success rate improved. The experiment has been furthered in the second generation of the airplane named Solar Impulse-2, which today has brought in desired results. According to reports, more innovative applications are on the anvil, and more good results are likely to come.

Though problems about creating the cockpit comfort for pilots in the Impulse2  without increasing the weight of the airplane are yet to be addressed, as tell the reports, no surprise that even this would be solved soon.

Many things can be harnessed through continual experiments. The flights from Abu Dhabi to Muscat in Oman, then to Myanmar, to Ahmedabad and Varanasi are all long journeys from the initial one in June last year in Switzerland.

The solar cells built into the airplane’s wings to supply constant electricity to its engine makes us to think that similar experiment in Indian long-distance trains are also possible.

The Railways Budget 2015-16 has given some stress on energy procurement and consumption thereof, to manage its running costs, apart from those incurred for the passengers. Ironically, there was no honest reason why this central aspect of functioning of the national transporter could not be addressed before.

Fuel Efficiency has been the story here long waiting to be told. Quite a few such ventures were envisioned by former Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, which have been put on docks for reasons only political equations can justify. Units for manufacturing railways implements all across the country is one which Mamata Banerjee had conceptualised, which today we find to be very much in line with the Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ vision.

Fitting solar cells on long-distance trains can be a formidable progressive innovation that the railways board should consider. In similar ways, in all railway stations, corridors, railways’ buildings solar panels can be fitted to elicit solar power and cut the fossil fuel generated electricity consumption. This would also result in cutting running costs.

Though differently, we have already found some manufacturing spearheads in the New Delhi Metro Railway system. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has started manufacturing its compartments within the country, taking the advantage from the South Korean technology. The success story in the Delhi Metro case means innovation is possible, if situations and demands are handled efficiently.

Indian Railways indeed has potentials to emerge as a glorious national example of ‘Make in India’ hub in each of its nook and corner, by setting up its own solar energy harnessing as well as manufacturing units.

The problem lies elsewhere though: Indian Railway Budgets has always been drawn only for partisan concerns. Though the current budget claims to have looked into creating the best possible efficacies in fuel generation and consumption, as is explained by its finance commissioner Rajlakshmi Ravikumar at an interview with a pink paper a few weeks back, yet chances are bright that these would end up as mere windbags of promises.

There has been input of quality norms in understanding and correcting what ails Indian railways. The issues about taking operational energy from low-cost diesels had always been in the common sight. These were dogging the earlier ministers for Railways constantly, even as all of them wanted to cut operational costs by subsidizing the diesel and electricity costs.

In the process they ignored a vital point, that subsidising energy costs would only boomerang into the railways costing paradigms through wastage or ill-management of energy. After all the first lesson of quality management should be the zero wastage.

Now with PPPs in place, as proposed, subsiding the diesel or even electricity supplied, has to be judiciously handled. Also this might lead to manage the energy supplies better, yet the basics continue to remain unaddressed. The private partners should have national zeal in their minds more than their selfish profit mindset.