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Indian railways use the sun's energy

India puts the first diesel-electric train with solar support on the rails. This should save tons of CO emissions every year.

In mid-July 2017, the first train with photovoltaic support was put on the rails in New Delhi.

Photo: Northern Railway

In mid-July, India's Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, welcomed an environmentally friendly novelty on India's rail network. A diesel-electric train whose wagons are also equipped with photovoltaic modules. This should significantly reduce the ecological footprint of the Indian railways.

Photovoltaics (PV) provide operating energy

Although the train is still powered by a diesel engine, the energy from the wagons should come solely from the photovoltaic system on the roofs. Each wagon is equipped with 16 panels with an output of up to 20 kilowatts. This is intended to operate the lighting, cooling and passenger information.

Excess energy is stored in 12-volt batteries and can be accessed at night. This means that diesel generators are left out even when there is no direct sunlight.

A more environmentally friendly railway as a mammoth project

At least if the equipping of the trains with solar panels is extended to longer routes in the coming years, this conversion will contribute significantly to the CO2-Reduction of the railways at. The PV modules should generate around 21,000 liters of diesel per year and thus 9 tons of CO2 can be saved per train. In addition, the company also saves cash per train, namely 1.2 million Indian rupees, the equivalent of 16,000 euros.

The lighting, cooling and passenger information in the wagons are to be operated with solar energy.

Source: Ministry of Railways

At the official presentation of the first train equipped with solar modules in New Delhi, Suresh Prabhu announced that he would convert a further 24 wagons over the next six months. A small step on a long way, because the Indian rail network is one of the largest rail transport networks in the world. Around 23 million passengers and loads of goods are transported through it every day.

Railway company enters the solar business

In order to achieve the goal of a more environmentally friendly railway in India, the state railway company is not only relying on solar modules on the wagons themselves. In the next five years, several solar systems with 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity are also planned. The aim is to do justice to the 2015 announcement that by 2020 it will produce around one gigawatt of solar power itself. Furthermore, the use of biofuels and wind energy as well as the recycling of water are part of the current conversion process.

When it comes to climate-friendly developments on a large scale, a look at India makes sense. Because the country, which is somewhere between gray coal mining and shiny Bollywood flair, is one of the three biggest climate sinners in the world. But at the same time, the government is pushing ahead with the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement with ambitious national goals. Compared to 2005, greenhouse emissions are to be reduced by up to 35 percent. At the beginning of July we reported on the switch of the world's largest coal producer to solar energy. The mining company Coal India Limited, like the railway company, is subordinate to the Indian government.

Other countries rely on electric drives

In other countries, on the other hand, where the sun does not shine quite as reliably as in India, the emphasis is on the complete electrification of trains. The German Aerospace Center, for example, is working on a freight train with an electric drive and an autopilot. This would not only make it environmentally friendly, it would also be able to act autonomously. China Railway Rolling Corporation is also using electricity to power their recently unveiled train without a rail system.

In this video, the Indian railway company shows us what the solar panels on the train and what an Indian train looks like from the inside. The speech of the Indian railway minister afterwards, however, is unlikely to be able to follow:


A contribution from:

  • Lisa Diez-Holz

    The author was content manager for the TechnikKarriere-News-Portal of the VDI Verlag from 2017 to the end of 2019. Before that, she wrote for VDI nachrichten as an editor.