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Micro Solutions to India's Macro Problems - Part 5 - Trains and Green Energy
Trains and Green EnergyGrowing energy requirements and the ability for production to match this pace is another huge challenge India faces today. The debate about the different methods of producing electricity and their pros and cons, their effect on the environment, the cost of setting up plants etc, rages hot and furious between those who want 'development at all costs' and those who question 'development - but at what cost?'.
While it is possible to see and understand each side's stands, the one thing that remains undebatable is that the need for more and more energy exists and that now, and in all foreseeable future, this need is only going to increase.
So how can we find a middle ground that meets the rising need and minimizes the unseen costs that more energy production will generate?
To me, the solution seems to lie in innovative use of existing resources for unconventional methods of producing electricity.
One of the unseen and untapped resource is our massive railway system. We have - correct me if I am wrong - the fourth largest railway networks in the world in terms of the length of the rail network. It runs around 11,000 trains a day of which 7,000 are passenger trains!
Imagine if these 11,000 trains could be tapped to produce electricity!
The question is HOW?
The answer lies in the utilization of the roofs!
The railway coach has a roof that generally does one single job - that of being a roof. (Of course, in some cases it also doubles as additional seating capacity - but that is another topic altogether :-).....)
The roof area of the coaches is unutilized space that can be put to good use in a couple of different ways to generate electricity. The electricity captured in this way could be utilized 'in house' for the lighting, fans, air-conditioning etc of the same train, thereby reducing the necessity for fuel consumption to run these facilities.
The first method of utilization could be to retrofit all coaches with solar panels to capture the sunlight and produce electricity the way it is currently being done on home rooftops or traffic signals. This method would have the additional benefit of insulating the current roof from the strong sunlight and thereby reducing the heat inside the coach - something those travelling in non-a/c coaches in summer would greatly appreciate!
The second method of utilization could be to use the other popular method of power generation - wind energy. A running train essentially creates a wind factor in the opposite direction in tune with its speed. Whereas, a conventional stationary wind turbine might be limited at times, due to the lack of winds at sufficient speeds, a running train, per force, creates wind just from the fact of running. This means that whatever the actual wind condition in the area, the roof of the train encounters wind force equivalent to its speed at all times! Imagine having assured wind resources for a wind turbine! This would mean that there is never a possibility of less production because of wind vagaries!
As children we have all probably built 'phirkanis' and held it near the windows while travelling in trains and enjoyed the thrill of watching it spinning faster and faster as the train speeds up :-) . A surface as small as 2" or 3" is enough to catch the wind and spin at high speeds in a running train. The same principal, and probably, the same size of catching surface, on turbines rotating horizontally, could be applied to existing coach rootops to make trains self-sufficient in terms of electricity requirements!
Going a step further, maybe these two methods could be combined in several different ways so that, running or stationary, the train produces enough electricity for its own needs.
We have seen how solar panels over canals creates value addition to the same space through double utilization, with the additional benefit of preventing water loss through evaporation. These two ideas, if implemented, would be an extension of the same principal - maximum utilization of otherwise vacant space to create value addition.
Hello PM Modi....any takers?