India’s legendary railway network lays out over 41,000 miles of track winding through everything from jungles to deserts to mountainsides as it reaches into every remote region of the country. Keeping the world’s fourth largest railway network requires a lot of fuel. More precisely, it requires 5,547 gallons of diesel fuel per year.
Now India is experimenting with using solar power to offset their massive diesel fuel consumption and companion air pollution problem. And they started with the unveiling of their first train outfitted with solar panels, the Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU).
The train will be pushed by a traditional fuel-powered locomotive but all other cars will house solar panels that power the train’s passenger comfort systems, such as lights, information displays and fans. The panels feed into an onboard battery which stores surplus power.
Of course, the task came with its share of engineering challenges. Sandeep Gupta, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Jakson Engineers Limited told Business Standard, “It is not an easy task to fit solar panels on the roof of train coaches that run at a speed of 80 km per hour.”
This latest experiment put them on track to become a clean energy leader for the world stage.
The train will run along a commute route in New Delhi and more routes will be decided on and announced in the future. With a rail network that sees 11,000 trains catering to roughly 13 million passengers on a daily basis, the potential savings are massive. The government estimates that the plan to move to solar-powered train cars will save them Rs41,000 crore ($6.31 billion) over the next 5 years. It will also reduce carbon emissions by nine tonnes per year.
The launch of a solar-powered train is just one project in the country’s ambitious goal to increase renewable power capacity to 175 gigawatts (GW) by 2022. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy announced the plan in 2015. In order to achieve the target, the country would need to see a whopping fivefold increase in renewable power capacity in the span of seven years.
Tracking reports show they don’t always meet their targets. Even still, the country continues to experiment and introduce creative new ways to implement renewable energy technologies at large-scale. This latest experiment put them on track to become a clean energy leader for the world stage.