Renewables Journey

Indian Railways’ clean energy initiatives

Indian Railways is making efforts to ensure energy efficiency and use renewable energy in its operations. It aims to meet at least 25 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. Substantial progress has been made in this regard while also creating opportunities for renewable energy players. At a recent conference, “Energy Needs of Indian Railways”, organised by Renewable Watch, various stakeholders highlighted the renewable energy initiatives being undertaken by Indian Railways, the challenges faced and the way forward…

Anubhav Agrawal, Deputy Chief Electrical Engineer, North Central Railway

Anubhav Agrawal

The North Central Railway has made significant progress in the rooftop solar and LED spaces in the three divisions of Allahabad, Agra and Jhansi. In Allahabad, a number of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have been set up at different locations. Azure Power has installed the systems and signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) with the railways. Similarly, in the Agra and Jhansi divisions, rooftop solar systems have been installed. We did face certain challenges in the rooftop solar project at Jhansi in terms of the 1 MW size limitation. But we appealed to the Uttar Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (UPERC), which finally gave approval for 4.1 MWp of rooftop capacity. Of this, 3.5 MWp has already been installed. In fact, the rooftop solar plant at the Jhansi workshop will be the single largest rooftop project of Indian Railways once it is fully commissioned.

The North Central Railway is also executing an 11.2 MWp rooftop solar project, for which a PPA has been signed with Azure Power at Rs 4.58 per unit. This project will save about 50 per cent of our present electricity costs, as we currently pay Rs 9-Rs 10 per unit to discoms for power. Solar lighting at railway crossing gates has also been provided at a total cost of about Rs 10 million across 341 locations under the North Central Railway zone where grid supply is not available. A total of 3,000 litres of solar water heaters have been installed at certain locations, especially in the locomotive areas, and solar pumps have been installed for drawing groundwater.

In the energy efficiency space, about 90 per cent of the locations in the North Central Railway zone use evaporative cooling to reduce the air-conditioning load. The North Central Railway has already achieved 100 per cent LED replacement as per the policy directive of Indian Railways. Achieving this goal was a difficult task due to fund constraints and time delays in the direct buying approach initially used by the organisation. However, a new approach of signing agreements with Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), whereby we purchased products worth Rs 50 million outright, has helped us in getting closer to our goal. In fact, the Jhansi Railway Workshop has been awarded the National Energy Management Award for 2017 by the Confederation of Indian Industry for its energy saving initiatives. It has also received the GreenCo Silver rating.

Until now, all our initiatives were focused on non-traction load. However, we are shifting our focus to traction load as well, which is about 10 times the non-traction load. In the coming years, our focus will be on providing efficient solar solutions to meet the traction load demand of Indian Railways. The company is keen on adopting innovative solutions such as energy storage and solar-wind hybrids that make great commercial sense and can help it reach its goals.

National Technical Consultant, Prodyut Mukherjee, United Nations Development Programme

Prodyut Mukherjee

Indian Railways is keen on integrating MW-level solar power in its traction network, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is providing technical assistance for this task. The objective is to create an investment climate for 1 GW of ground-mounted solar projects that feed energy directly into the railway traction network. This will require addressing the technical challenges related to interconnectivity and power evacuation and the development of railway-specific designs. Finally, a replicable programme on a pan-Indian level needs to be developed.

UNDP is currently engaged in a study to develop technical solutions for MW-level solar power, identifying suitable traction substations (TSSs) for feeding power, establishing project economics and assessing the preliminary financial attractiveness of the generation systems. The first step towards this was the identification of potential sites through desk research. This was done to understand the areas wherein solar could be integrated, on the basis of a number of parameters such as traffic on certain routes, availability of the solar resource, the connected load, and contract demand at the TSSs. The ease of project implementation based on the available information, and the correlation between solar generation and load profiles of TSSs was also analysed. Based on land availability and the solar resource potential, 17 out of the 230 TSSs present on the Golden Quadrilateral route and its diagonals were selected for a detailed field study.

Through our analysis, we discovered that about 12.13 per cent of the daily consumption at a particular TSS could be offset by solar at good sites. On extrapolating our findings to the existing 426 TSS sites across India, we could, in theory, easily target about 1,000 MW of direct current capacities. Of this, 400 MW could be installed along the Golden Quadrilateral itself.

Technical solutions were devised to achieve this integration and these were presented to Indian Railways, which has approved some of these solutions. These solutions can be broadly categorised as – greater than 1 MW systems (to be installed near the TSS), sub-MW category plants (located on available land that may not necessarily be near the TSS), and distributed systems (with 100 kW of capacity).

Reliability and safety are of paramount importance for these traction systems. It should be ensured that the system architecture does not intrude into the railway network in any way. While designing these solutions, the study group limited itself to commercially available solutions in the market that worked on proof of concept, instead of adopting something that is totally new. Final designs are being vetted by Indian Railways, which will soon announce the public-private partnership (PPP) bids based on the renewable energy service company (RESCO) model.

In addition, Indian Railways is considering utilising “wayside energy storage systems” for meeting the traction demand when solar energy is unavailable. This structured study is probably the first such attempt in the world, and its actual implementation would make Indian Railways the first railway company to achieve this high a level of renewable energy integration in its network.

Vijay Singh, General Manager, Rooftop, Azure Power

Vijay Singh

Azure Power is operating in more than 20 states, with a portfolio of about 2 GW. We have about 49 operational and 22 under-construction projects, for which 25-year PPAs have been signed. Azure Power only functions in the RESCO mode and has its own design, procurement and installation processes.

Indian Railways is a major contributor to achieving India’s solar energy targets and Azure is excited to work with the organisation. In fact, it has been associated with Indian Railways for many projects. Azure Power has installed projects for the Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC) and the Solar Energy Corporation of India, among others.

The company interconnects rooftop plants at the low tension level as the rooftops are usually small. The system can be set up under the gross and net metering mechanisms, and captive consumption, as required by the consumer and permitted by the discom. In addition, we help obligated entities such as Indian Railways to meet their renewable purchase obligation (RPO) targets, reduce electricity bills and increase savings. Azure operates under three models – PPP, bilateral power sale and intermediary power sale. Post the signing of PPAs, we have a fast-track approach for financing.

Azure recently commissioned a project for DMRC at the Sultanpur station. This was a challenging task as installation work could be done only for a few hours daily when there was no movement of rolling stock. The PPA was signed in April 2016, and the project was scheduled for completion within 18 months. However, Azure was able to close the financing in four months, clear drawings in one month and complete procurement in two months, and as a result, achieve partial commissioning in less than seven months. As of March 2018, Azure Power has developed 75 MW of capacity for Indian Railways.

The company has faced a few challenges in implementing rooftop solar projects. For example, many of our customers want to invest their own finances in rooftop projects (capex mode). But we try and advise them to opt for the RESCO mode as this is the company’s area of expertise. Moreover, the customer only has to pay the tariff for 25 years and the company takes complete responsibility for the project’s operations and maintenance.

The other issue is at the regulatory end. The current policy defines a rooftop plant as one that is not more than 500 kW. The industry is in consultation with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy on this capacity cap as many roofs are large enough to allow the installation of higher capacity.

Net metering is another major issue. Most of the state regulators, apart from Odisha, limit the plant size to 1 MW. While Uttar Pradesh allows the setting up of larger rooftop plants on a case-to-case basis, Gujarat unfortunately does not allow the RESCO mode. Tamil Nadu does not allow net metering at all. The company is making efforts to relax this limit and install rooftop plants of higher capacities.

Sanjay Waghmare, Chief Electrical Service Engineer, Central Railway

Sanjay Waghmare

Central Railway consumes electricity for traction as well as non-traction purposes. During the period 2014 to 2018, about 2,400 MUs was consumed for traction and 125 MUs for non-traction purposes. The non-traction energy consumption has varied over the years, but the changing pattern can be attributed to the DC to AC conversion. However, overall, non-traction energy will most likely see an increasing trend due to an increase in electrification. Central Railway has already installed about 1.9 MW of solar capacity. In Mumbai, a total of about 210 kW capacity has been installed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station and at Nirmal Park. About 20 kW of capacity has been installed on the rooftop of the Matunga workshop’s EMU building. Projects of about 31 kW are spread across eight locations in Solapur division and 163.5 kW across three locations in Pune division. In Nagpur division, a total capacity of 16.4 kW has been installed and in Bhusawal division, 540 kW of capacity has been installed. The largest capacity, of 1 MW, was recently commissioned in Sanpada district on the electric multiple unit (EMU) car workshop building. The project has a tariff of Rs 3.78 per kWh.

Solar lights have been set up on level crossing (LC) gates. Central Railway has around 870 LC gates, of which 795 are supplied electricity from either the state electricity board (SEB) or from overhead equipment (OHE). At 75 locations, due to the unavailability of electric supply from SEBs or OHEs within a 2 km radius, we are providing only solar lighting facility to the LC gates. At 454 locations, the LC gates are electrified through both SEBs and solar sources, with solar lighting acting as a standby to the SEB to maintain power quality and reliability. Other projects such as wind-solar hybrids of 43.45 kW capacity have also been set up at eight locations. Therefore, the cumulative renewable energy capacity installed for Central Railway stood at 2,073.5 kW as of March 2018.  Central Railway has also provided for about 117 solar water heaters at different locations such as officer rest houses, running rooms and hospitals. This has helped the organisation achieve energy savings of 663,000 kWh and cost savings of about Rs 6.3 million annually.

Northern Railway is planning to install, a total of 250 MW of capacity in Nagpur (25 MW [5 MWx5 locations]), Bhusawal (45 MW [5 MWx9 locations]), Solapur (85 MW [5 MWx17 locations]) and Pune (95 MW [5 MWx19 locations]). In addition, 10 projects of 10 MW each will be installed at Nagpur (three projects), Bhusawal (three projects) and Pune (four projects). A plan for tendering 323 MW of capacity has been drawn up by Railway Energy Management Company Limited. Of this, projects worth 100 MW will be tendered in the coming months. In addition, Central Railway has proposed the installation of 10 MW of capacity in PPP mode, but without any incentive.

In Maharashtra, Mumbai division has identified about 11 MW of capacity that can be tendered. Of this, some capacity will be awarded at this stage and some at a later stage. Similarly, Nagpur, Bhusawal, Solapur and Pune divisions have identified 807 kW, 4.8 MW, 4.4 MW and 4.3 MW of capacity respectively. Hence, a total of about 25 MW has been identified by Railway Energy Management Company Limited for allotment either now or in the next stage.

In the wind power segment, we have signed PPAs with Inox Wind for 35 MW of power. Of this, 6 MW has been allotted to Central Railway. The installation of windmills near Sangli, Maharashtra, is complete, which will be consumed at 33 kV or 11 kV. A tariff of Rs 5.18 per kWh will be applicable for a period of 25 years. In addition to this tariff, distribution loss charges will have to be paid to the discom and so, the effective tariff could be Rs 6.20-Rs 6.30 per kWh.

Indian Railways also faces some issues in the installation of renewable energy capacity. One of these is the cap of 1 MW on rooftop solar. Some states such as Uttar Pradesh have allowed an increase in this limit on a case-by-case basis. Central Railway has filed a petition with the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) to increase this capacity to the transformer capacity available in the region falling under Central Railway’s transmission network. The organisation has quoted the recent decision by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission as an example to permit Indian Railways to purchase power through open access for non-traction purposes also.

Another argument presented to the MERC is that the regulatory agency has permitted Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited to sign a 200 MW PPA with EESL, and since Indian Railways/ Central Railway is a deemed licensee, it should also be allowed to sign similar PPAs.

To add to the contradictions, in the case of the Nagpur Metro, an application for about 40 MW of net metered capacity was made to MERC which was rejected. MERC suggested that the Nagpur Metro avail of the captive route for installing the desired capacity. But captive generation is slightly costlier than net metering, which can lead to a major setback in procuring clean energy. In addition, we have appealed to the state regulator to allow the solar energy procured through open access for non-traction purposes to be used for fulfiling the railways’ RPO requirement.


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