The Indian Railways, world’s fourth largest railway network, recently took a massive step towards sustainable energy as it launched the world’s first-ever solar powered train.

A short distance inter-city train was launched in India’s capital recently which had 4.8 kilowatts of solar modules installed atop six coaches. The train is the first in the world to be powered by solar power. The train is also equipped with a battery backup which can power it for 72 hours.

The six coaches are equipped with 16 panels of 300 watts (peak) capacity each. These panels are used for powering fans and lighting systems inside the coaches. The initiative will soon be extended to other short-distance inter-city trains and eventually expanded to long-distance trains as well. Once fully implemented the program will result in significant savings for the Indian Railways.

The CEO of Indian Railways Organisation for Alternative Fuel told media outlets that the total monetary savings for this entire project is expected to be around Rs 700 crore ($108 million). Each such trains will reduce consumption of diesel by more than half a million litres over a 25 year period. Around 1,350 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will also be offset by each solar-powered train during the same time period.

Last month, the Indian Railways launched a tender for installation of solar panels and battery backup systems for 250 trains.

Companies selected through the tender process will be required to install flexible solar panels and battery systems on six trains on experimental basis. These trains will be put into commercial operations and performance of the panels and batteries would be tested for a period of two months before a decision on large-scale implementation is taken.

The Indian Railways is working on several initiatives to enhance sustainability in its operations. It is planning to set up bio-diesel refineries to blend 5% biodiesel in its diesel locomotives. It is also exploring using of Compressed Natural Gas to replace at least 20% of diesel consumption.

A highly ambitious project to cover almost every railway station in the country with rooftop solar panels has also been undertaken. Around 7,000 railway stations will be installed with rooftop solar power systems with a cumulative capacity of 1,000 megawatts.

A study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water stated that Indian Railways has the potential to source 25% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources by 2025. According to the study, Indian Railways can set up 3.9 gigawatts of utility-scale and 1.1 gigawatts of rooftop solar power systems to meet 25% of its electricity demand.

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