India turns to solar power to boost train safety

Indian train platforms and stations could soon be lit up with solar panels and LEDs, greening the railway network while providing increased safety to passengers and homeless migrants alike.

Solar lighting is on its way to the Visakhapatnam train station in the eastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the busiest stations on India’s east coast with 33 million passengers transiting through the station in the past three years, journalist Manipadma Jena wrote.

And while many are touting the environmental benefits of outfitting the country’s vast railway network with renewable lighting sources, for homeless migrants like Usha Saimla – who lives at the station with other families – the solar panels and LEDs provide a sense of safety.

“It is the dark corners that frighten us, near the water taps and where we take a child to relieve himself,” she is quoted as saying in the Climate Home article, explaining that drug users, thieves and even human traffickers may be lurking in the shadows.

All that is set to change in August when a 1 MW solar roof-top system will power LEDs for the platforms, two locomotive sheds, a hospital, offices and small shops, according to the article. Authorities expect the project to save USD 31,000 a year in electricity costs.

The Visakhapatnam project is part of a larger government scheme to green the country’s railway network with 1,000 MW of solar energy and at least 10 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

“We want Indian Railways to become a green engine of growth,” said federal railway minister Suresh Prabhu last month. “Indian Railways being a significant consumer of energy, identifying a cost-effective energy system with least environmental impact is essential.”

Visakhapatnam is one of 300 railway stations where work has already begun. A total of 7,000 train stations are targeted for solar panels.

Experts see huge potential to decarbonise India’s railway network with solar energy. Even smaller, rural stations with poor grid connectivity could install solar micro-grids and sell any excess power to nearby residences or small businesses.


Image credit: Smeeet Chowdhury, flickr/Creative Commons

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