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Railways can significantly cut carbon footprints through electrification

June 27, 2023 12:16 pm

Railways can significantly cut carbon footprints through electrification

The industry experts analyse how to incorporate smart grid and intelligent electrifying features in rail electrification, highlighting the benefits of energy-efficient power supply and distribution for railroads and metros.

Indian Railways has set a goal to electrify a total of 28,810 km of broad-gauge route by December 2023. As of March 2023, this electrification initiative has achieved 100 percent completion in 14 states and union territories, including Haryana, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, and Uttar Pradesh. An important achievement aligned with the Center’s seven priorities, known as Saptarshi, as highlighted during the Union Budget, was the successful completion of railway track electrification in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Ahmad Khan, Senior Vice President, Grid Automation – Hitachi Energy India Limited, said, “These technologies facilitate the integration of new energy sources, enhance sustainability, operational efficiency, and throughput of existing rail networks, while improving passenger safety and overall service quality.” This discussion explores the implementation of smart grid technologies in railway and metro electrification and highlights the benefits and challenges associated with grid stability, energy management, and data analytics.

The Indian Railways has pledged to achieve 100 percent electrification as part of its objective of being a net-zero carbon emitter by 2030. Commenting on this, Devesh Bansal, Director at Skipper India Limited highlights “This is consistent with the Indian government’s declared goal of reaching Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2070, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed at the COP26 in Glasgow. When this voyage is completed successfully, Indian Railways will have accomplished the extraordinary accomplishment of becoming the world’s largest green railway system.”

Devesh says,   Infrastructure development, including the expansion of transmission lines, substations, and distribution networks, is necessary to meet the increased demand for power due to electrification. ‘Moreover, expansion in the power sector is essential to generate and supply electricity as more railway and metro systems transition to electric power, which may involve developing new power plants, including renewable energy projects”, he adds.

However, rapid detection and self-healing capabilities for power system faults are integrated to ensure the reliability and resilience of the rail network. Implementing stringent cyber security measures is crucial to protect against potential cyber threats and ensure the safety and integrity of critical infrastructure and data.

Benefits and challenges of implementing smart grid technologies

Real-time monitoring and control facilitate a reliable power supply, reducing the risk of blackouts. Integrating intermittent renewable energy sources requires managing variability and maintaining grid stability through energy storage and advanced control algorithms.

Here, Ahmad explains that accurate data collection on consumption and load patterns enables optimised energy usage, demand response strategies, and cost reduction. However, accurately forecasting demand, supply, and pricing amidst passenger variations and power system complexity remains challenging.

According to Sudhanshu Mani (IRSME), retired General Manager of the Indian Railways Service of Mechanical Engineering, sustainability should be considered in two aspects: maintaining planned performance levels and expanding and minimising environmental impact through green materials and processes. The government is already taking initiatives towards greener railroad systems. 

Smart grid technologies generate vast amounts of data, offering valuable insights into energy consumption patterns, load profiles, and network performance. Advanced analytics techniques can optimise energy distribution and predict maintenance needs. Robust cyber security measures are essential to safeguard critical infrastructure and protect against cyber threats. Continuous monitoring and proactive security measures ensure the privacy and integrity of data.

Devesh highlights that implementing smart grid technologies may require significant infrastructure upgrades and installation investments. Evaluating cost-effectiveness and feasibility is essential for successful implementation.

Successful implementation of renewable energy requires meeting various technological and infrastructure requirements. These include conducting site selection and resource assessment to identify suitable locations for solar and wind installations. Devesh further stress the fact that utilising smart grid technologies enables real-time monitoring and control of grid integration and power management, optimising the efficiency of renewable energy systems. Implementing communication and monitoring systems allows for continuous tracking of renewable energy generation and grid performance


Improving electricity efficiency in rail and metro

As part of its commitment to reduce carbon footprints, Indian Railways is taking several initiatives. In line with this, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Indian Railways, the Government of India and the United States Agency for International Development/India (USAID/India) on 14th June 2023 for collaboration on Renewable energy and Energy Efficiency. 

“Electrified railways and metros offer improved energy efficiency compared to their diesel-powered counterparts”, says Ahmad. With electric traction, the energy consumption per passenger-kilometre decreases significantly, making public transportation a more environmentally friendly choice. Moreover, regenerative braking technology enables the conversion of kinetic energy into electrical energy, further optimising energy usage and minimising waste.

Electrified rail systems contribute to improved air quality by eliminating the use of diesel engines. The absence of direct emissions results in reduced levels of pollutants, enhancing the overall environmental well-being of urban areas. Ahmad further believes that the electrification of railways leads to a quieter environment, minimising noise pollution and creating a more pleasant commuting experience for passengers and nearby residents.

The electrification of railways and metros plays a pivotal role in sustainable urban development. By providing efficient and reliable mass transit systems, these technologies promote a shift away from private vehicles, thus reducing traffic congestion and the associated environmental impacts. Commenting on this, Devesh says that electrified transportation networks offer a viable solution for managing urban growth, improving connectivity, and ensuring mobility for all.

Controlling the demand side and power distribution management

In parallel, companies like Skipper are integrating manufacturing of railway electrification structures. Advanced Metering Infrastructure enables real-time monitoring of electricity consumption through smart meters, promoting energy efficiency and demand-side management. Devesh stresses that distribution automation ensures efficient power distribution through sensors and control devices, while microgrids and islanding improve grid resilience. Data analytics is crucial in leveraging the collected data for informed decision-making, system optimisation, and improved performance.

One of the primary strategies to promote renewable energy integration is the installation of large-scale solar plants at strategic locations. The railways and metro systems are also exploring innovative methods to harness solar energy efficiently. This pioneering approach reduces operational costs and contributes to a cleaner and greener transportation system. The Indian railways and metros are taking significant strides towards a sustainable future by embracing renewable energy integration.

According to Sudhanshu Mani, the reputation of Indian Railways has remained unchanged over the years. However, the global trend in train design for the past few decades has been moving towards train sets without locomotives, where all equipment is onboard, and the space above is utilised for passenger amenities. This design allows for improved aerodynamics and aesthetics. There was a prolonged debate on importing such train sets or opting for local designs, causing significant delays. 

The electrification of railways and metros heavily relies on the power sector, playing a vital role in supporting decarbonisation efforts. Here, Devesh suggests that to meet the growing power demand caused by electrification, it is imperative to develop infrastructure such as transmission lines, substations, and distribution networks. This may entail establishing new power plants, including renewable energy projects, to meet the increased requirements. 

Rail operators are increasingly adopting digitalisation and automation technologies to maximise network availability and operational efficiency. Through comprehensive data collection, intelligent software, and advanced analytics, railways can gain real-time insights into their assets, prioritise maintenance and repairs, and optimise workforce management. 

Excerpts taken from:

Ahmad Khan, Senior Vice President, Grid Automation – Hitachi Energy India Limited.
Devesh Bansal, Director, Skipper Limited.
Sudhanshu Mani, Retired GM, Indian Railways Service of Mechanical Engineering (IRSME).

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