energy transport

Indian Railways is putting solar panels on trains

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the possibilities of self-charging solar vehicles, and just how many solar panels you can stick on a car. Here’s a related concept for this edition of ‘transport innovation of the week‘. Indian Railways has been exploring a variety of ways of saving energy and reducing emissions, and has recently been trialing solar panels on its trains.


The plan is not to run the train itself on solar power, but to provide energy for the interior of the coaches. The current trial has 12 panels on each coach, enough to run the lights and fans. If successful, future trials will power the AC units as well, as there’s room for 6 more panels on each roof.

The interiors would normally run off diesel, and over a year the solar train will save 90,000 litres of fuel and 200 tonnes of CO2. Relative to the power needed to move the whole train, this is small. But if you multiply the savings across India’s vast rail network then it soon adds up, keeping down costs and emissions.

When I walk into town I cross a footbridge over the tracks in Luton, and as the trains pass underneath I find myself asking why there aren’t solar panels on them too. Indian Railways say there’s 40 square metres of space on one of their train roofs. Might as well put it good use, even if our own sunshine quotient doesn’t match India’s.

You can do the same thing with buses of course. Here are some in China:



  1. Hello Jeremy. Only one problem with the Indian Railways scheme – the roofs often have as many travellers on them as are inside the carriages!

    1. Yeah, that’s not going to be good for the solar panels… Fortunately the health and safety people put a stop to that a few years ago, or at least they tried. Rightly so, too. I remember reading that a dozen people used to die every day on the Mumbai commuter trains, which is extraordinary.

  2. oh yes jeremy now in india we have a kind of political willpower committed to work for the infrastructure of india,soon many more things will appear on the ground that the world will emulate to ponder their profitability in the pretext of their on lands,thanks for finding the mettle in india

  3. A fairly awesome envision of the Lenfest Plaza! Isn’t it

  4. Sure, the cost saving son just the lights and interior climate control will not compare to being able to chew into the operational cost, but decision makers should understand you must trim costs wherever you can while making an impact on the environment. I don’t know much about the solar panels and product industries in India and China, but it seems likely their could be a manufacturing boost associated.

  5. This is most inefficient way of utilizing Solar Energy wasting public money by Railways.
    I find a lot of interest on Solar panels on Vehicles especially school projects like Solar Bike,Solar Scooty,Solar van,Solekshaw etc. which end up only publicity. Now it is extended to Solar Trains,Solar Buses etc. MANY A TIMES THE BEST BRAINS FALTER. MANY TECHNOLOGISTS LACK COMMON SENSE. While you are going on a bike or scooter in sunlight you don’t find much heat on head. While you are stationary, it is hot. Can’t promoters of Solar energy on moving objects know this simple truth.
    Solar panels are not a good solution to providing energy for any kind of vehicular transportation, be it trains, automobiles, airplanes, or anything else. The amount of sunlight that falls on any kind of vehicle is always far less than the amount of energy required to power that vehicle.
    Solar panels only make sense when installed on the ground or on buildings, where you can put up hectares of panels in one location and the panels don’t have to be moved. That’s the only way to get enough power to make the installation worthwhile.
    If the panels are to mounted on the tops of any of the cars the leading edge of the panel would have to covered with a guard to reduce wind resistance.
    Related to how the power would interface with the train’s existing electrical infrastructure is an unknown Presumably the voltage out put is different, varying, and intermittent would lend itself to be best fed into a backup back up battery .

    Are not solar panels on the roof of the train meet with air resistance? Thus they require more power from the Engine. Also the present power lines are fitted with out solar panels on the roof of the train.
    More over when the train is in motion the incidence of solar insulation is not constant and there will be air which will reduce the effect of solar insolation on panels on the roof of the train That is why cars are charged while stationary and energy stored in batteries.I conducted Solar disinfection for safe drinking water and by eliminating the effect of wind there is a gain of about 10 degrees Celsius.How safe will be the solar panels on the top of the train which will be subject to vibration and theft?
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP)
    Renewable Energy Expert
    Margaret Noble Foundation Seattle award in Energy Technology

  6. fixing the solar panel in Indian train its very cost effective and the train tickets cost will be less there is chances to reduce the whole cost.. and the Indian railway saves the coals and fuels…

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