11th December 2021
Did you know that rail transport is recognized as the most sustainable mode of transportation worldwide? Greenhouse gas emissions per passenger kilometer are up to five times more in car transport than rail transport. So, it would be safe to say that rail transport is the most efficient form of transport after walking and cycling. Around 25% of trains worldwide still use fuels, whereas 75% have been electrified. Unfortunately, even the electric trains use a partially polluting mix. So, what could be done to achieve a greener and healthier environment? Solar train is the answer!
The sun seems to be sweeping the globe when it comes to harnessing power for cars and homes. The sun is the most efficient form of energy, making it a great alternative fuel for cars. If cars can be powered by the sun, why not trains?
On the one hand, solar energy seems to be a great alternative for traditional fuels to power cars. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to power cars through the sun as they drive in and out of shadows. They don't receive enough juice from the sun for a long period.
However, trains have enough space for solar panels, and they travel on the same route. Photovoltaic Cells are either located on the roof of the train or beside the railway lines. The solar trains get the power for their movement from there. For many years now, solar trains have been the target of many renewable energy projects as they can be easily and quickly recharged on every stop by static solar panels.
India joined the solar train bandwagon on July 14, 2017. India's first solar-powered DEMU (Diesel Electrical Multiple Units) runs from Sarai Rohilla in the national capital to Farukh Nagar in Haryana. There are six coaches on the train with a total of 16 solar panels, each producing approximately 300 Wp.
In 2020, a solar-powered miniature train was inaugurated in Veli, Kerala, by the state's Chief Minister. The eco-friendly miniature rail has all the characteristics of a fully-operational rail system, including a ticket window, tunnel, and station. Almost 45 people can be accommodated in each bogie. The train has three bogies in total. The 2.5 km long railway track is one of a kind.
The Indian railways, despite many challenges, are planning to introduce many such solar-powered coaches in the coming days. Solar-powered trains are expected to be introduced in the urban areas first. Talking of the future of solar trains in India, the Indian Railways have taken several measures to cement its position as one of the country's largest clean energy units. These actions are part of Indian Railways' long-term sustainability objectives. According to 2017 research, Indian Railways can build 5 gigawatts of solar generating capacity, which would be enough to fulfil all of the country's electricity needs in the coming years.
While Solar PV can find its place in underground networks worldwide, it may take a few years to be applied on large scale railways. However, we cannot say governments have not made efforts all over the world to operate solar-powered trains. When do the trains run as the sun is available only during the day? Fortunately, energy generated through the panel is stored in batteries to be used at night. We have a roundup of solar trains in operation below:
The first fully solar-operated train was introduced in New South Wales, Australia, around 70 years back. The train was renovated in 2017 by the North Byron Resort by applying solar panels on its roofs which supply 6.6 kW of power to the train. The train runs at a ridiculously slow speed of 18 km/h. If you have a lot of time in hand, you should consider enjoying the 3 km distance in leisure!
The world's first railway line powered by a 30 kW solar farm was inaugurated in 2019 in the United Kingdom. It was built close to the station so that the farm would feed directly into the station. Since it has enough capacity, there won't be any problem with powering, signaling, and lighting. However, given that trains in the United Kingdom consume 4,050 million kWh of electricity per year, solar farms are unlikely to provide 100% of the energy required to run the entire system in the near future.
Solar trains in India have panels on their roofs from where they get the energy. India's first 100% solar-powered station came up in Guwahati in 2017. India is planning to reduce its high dependence on a highly polluting electricity mix.
How do the solar trains work? Although a train doesn't entirely touch the rails, it is a massive structure! This implies that it takes a great deal of energy to get it moving. Even while the amount of energy it requires to keep it moving is far less, unless on steep slopes, it is still a lot. A high-speed passenger train can utilize roughly 0.03 kWh per passenger and kilometer, which equals 18 kWh/km for a 600-person train. At a speed of 250 km/h, one kilometer is covered every 14.4 seconds, consuming around 3.6 MW.
To supply enough momentum for all of the energy needed by the train to be electric, 18,000 m2 of solar panels would need to be erected next to the railway line with a generation of 200 W per square metres. From a technical standpoint, it is a real challenge. But the deployment of this infrastructure and its use on a circuit with many trains running makes operating only solar trains only a theory today.
As nations, companies, and even individuals strive to cut down on their carbon footprints worldwide, solar energy is the next big thing! Waaree Energies, founded in 1989 in Mumbai, has India's largest solar PV Modules manufacturing capacity of 2 GW. To contribute to a greener and healthier world, come forward and make use of EPC services, project solutions, solar water pumps, etc., provided by Waaree Energies.
Read further: What is a Solar Biscuit (Digital Solar)?