Railway Budget 2015-16 and Sustainability

Dear Readers, I know I am little late with my analysis of India’s latest railway budget w.r.t sustainability and renewable energy. Apologies for this delay caused due to hectic work schedule.

The Indian Railway minister Mr.Suresh Prabhu has come up with measures to make Indian Railways environment-friendly through promotion of solar power and taking up energy efficient steps.

1. Setting up 1,000 mw solar plants on railway/private land and railway buildings in the next five years
2. Audit for energy saving
3. Additional water conservation measures
4. Use of energy efficient LED lights
5. Turning diesel units into a dual fuel mode using CNG
6. eco friendly toilets

These are highly applauding measures and it will be very helpful if all these measures are implemented in the right manner to achieve the desired results.

1000 MW of solar plants is a good and big number but I don’t know how this number was derived without a study of railway land /rooftops,etc across the country. Maybe this is what the energy audit will do [Reminds me of a company; with more than 10 million sq ft space, I met few days back that wanted to install solar on its rooftop to decrease its electricity costs. I did try to educate them that just installing solar is a piecemeal approach that will not any greater savings. What is needed is a complete audit to understand both- decrease in energy consumption and switching to green energy].

With the railways looking to turn bottom line positive, the only worry will be the huge capex cost of solar and other renewable energy technologies to be implemented. The budget says that the railways will use the viability gap funding. Is it necessary for railways to use its money in setting up power plants which is not the core area of the company? It makes more sense to outsource the needs.
My suggestion will be to go for opex model where a third party invests in the technology and railway will only buy mix of renewable energy and conventional power at a cheaper rate than their current tariff.

Another solution could be the net-metering on railway rooftops in States that have net-metering policy.

I would also suggest a look at smaller off-grid wind turbines for railways since many stations are located in areas that enjoy good wind speed. A feasibility study can be done across identified locations.

As a complementary step to Swach Bharat, the Railways should look at using the waste in waste-2-energy plants. But this again should be outsourced where waste collection, separation and supply to the plant can be done by railway employees and be paid for by the waste-2-energy power plant developer.

Overall there exists a lot of opportunities in Indian Railways to initiate sustainability measures. The results [defining results not only in terms of reduction in emissions but also in positive trend in the bottom line] will depend on effective technical and financial implementation.

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