Clean Tech

South Central Railway chugs along sustainability track

V Rishi Kumar | Updated on March 11, 2020 Published on March 11, 2020

It has turned 13 railway stations ‘energy neutral’

From making railway stations environment friendly to powering bore wells, transforming standalone buildings with fused solar roof systems to launching an afforestation and water conservation mission, the South Central Railway (SCR) zone has made rapid strides in its drive towards energy conservation and sustainability. Thanks to this, it has turned 13 railways stations ‘energy neutral.’

The SCR has taken the lead by being the first in Indian Railways to execute the concept of ‘energy neutral railway stations’ capable of meeting 100 per cent energy requirement by tapping natural solar power through solar photo-voltaic (SPV) panels in the stations’ buildings. And nearly all of these stations have Wi-Fi facility. Secunderabad station has a Platinum rating and Kacheguda a Gold rating from the Indian Green Building Council.

Says Gajanan Mallya, General Manager, SCR, “The concept of ‘energy neutral stations’ is based on the principle of developing railway station buildings with total solar power tapping capabilities commensurate with the exact load requirements of those particular stations.”

This is done by installation of solar photo-voltaic panels on the rooftops which are integrated with on-grid or off grid energy plants to derive power supply for the entire stations. The investment made on these solar systems is recovered within four years.

Solar panels are being used not just for rooftop installations, but for solar water pumps, LED lighting systems, at remote locations and level crossings. In fact, all stations along the 120-km stretch between Nandyal and Yerragunta have been solar powered, enabling them to better handle power fluctuations.

While generating clean energy, solar installations at Railway stations help in lighting, running fans, pumps and other electrical appliances and bring down net fossil fuel energy consumption to zero. This helps reduce the carbon footprint by 1,170 tonnes per annum. “Among mass transport systems in the country, the Indian Railways is most eco-friendly and it has been trying to work towards lowering the impact on environment with innovative measures, including electric traction,” says Mallya.

Besides this, to cut down consumption of coal and diesel, Head on Generation (HOG) technology has been installed in 12 trains over the years, resulting in savings of around ₹7.5 crore and reduction in the carbon footprint. “Apart from driving towards 100 per cent electrification, we have used a holistic approach that includes solarisation of stations, taking up afforestation and rain water harvesting across all stations, buildings, colonies, workshops and sheds,” adds the General Manager.

Water recycling

Water recycling has been a major thrust area and the recycled waste water is used for coach cleaning, bringing down the water bill. The SCR has installed recycling plants at coach depots with a larger plan of setting up solar farms in remote railway stations where land is available.

For areas that need to be covered at the Railway stations, SCR has used clean-tech start-up Thinkphi’s creation, the Ulta Chaata or inverted umbrella. These designer canopies installed at the Guntakal railway station serve a plethora of functions — they harness solar energy, harvest rainwater, provide lighting, serve as charging stations for mobiles and laptops and as workstations for passengers. The SCR zone, in all, has commissioned over 8.2 MW of solar power plants, 1.75 kWp solar hybrid plants, 2.18 lakh litres per day solar water heating, 570 kWp water pumping and 52 KW equivalent day pipe light systems in offices.

Some interesting initiatives taken by SCR include the booking office at Kamareddi railway stations sporting a fused solar panel roof that seamlessly generates power from the solar PV roof for the entire facility. On platforms 4 and 5 of Vijayawada station, a high capacity 65 kWp solar photo voltaic cover is a first of its kind in the Railways. In addition, a solar tree has been installed at Vijayawada’s electric traction training centre to tap solar power.

The installation in the Vijayawada station signifies design of the platform roof incorporating solar photo-voltaic panels, a technological advancement over the efforts to install solar panels over existing structures. “I believe small is beautiful and many of the initiatives are small but have the potential to be replicated across a number of locations. These sustainable initiatives include rejuvenation of old wells, developing rain water harvesting across 843 railway stations, roof top water harvesting on over 1,000 buildings, rejuvenating 39 existing water ponds, construction of 80 new water ponds across 18 hectares, setting up water recycling plants, and a huge afforestation initiative along with ploughing barren land to improve percolation,” explains Mallya.

The zone has set up a modern automatic coach washing plant at Kacheguda railway station with an investment of ₹2.5 crore. It enables multistage external cleaning, which involves high pressure water jet, horizontal and vertical rotating nylon and cotton combination brushes for cleaning of rakes.

Each train rake of 24 coaches now takes 15 minutes for cleaning, the electric consumption is 10 units, manpower is down to one person and water consumption is reduced by 60 per cent. “All these were possible as we have the advantage of nearly 300 days of good sunshine. The hot terrain in the zone allows utilising climatic conditions to abundantly tap solar power,” points out Mallya. Other zones of Indian Railways are also taking up initiatives towards sustainability.

Published on March 11, 2020
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