Yet another record has been set with the Rs 2.63 / KWhr bid in the recent auction for wind power projects. Both wind and solar power have achieved record low tariffs. Given such price levels, and also surplus power availability, it is rather unfortunate that oil imports have been steadily rising and the nation has achieved the honor of being the 3rd largest oil importer in the world. The major reason for the high oil import is the transportation sector and therefore it is imperative to switch to Electrification of Transportation. The transition to Renewables & Electrification of transportation for our country is driven presently due to economic consideration and the resulting positive climate change effect is an added bonus.
Electrification of Transportation – Key to use of low cost domestic energy, Reduce high cost Oil imports & achieve zero emission.
Indian Railways – a classic example of electrification of transportation
Electrification of Transportation is not a new concept for our country. Despite stiff opposition from oil lobbies, spurred by the consecutive oil crisis in the seventies, GOI recognized the need to achieve a shift from petroleum based energy in the transport sector, and the Secretaries Committee on energy headed by the Cabinet Secretary decided in July 1980 , that the railways should speed up electrification at a pace of 1,000 route km/year. Accordingly, the pace of electrification was considerably speeded up and Indian Railways have achieved electrification of a total of 26269 rkm by 31 March 2015. This constitutes about 35.94% of the total railway network. Indian Railways decision to electrify has saved the country significant foreign exchange especially when the oil price shot up over US$ 100 / Barrel. Today nobody questions the wisdom of opting for railway electrification.
In this context, it would be worth mentioning that presently there is an ongoing “people powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads “ captioned as “Solutionary Rail” .
Metro in Delhi & other cities are another case of electrification of transportation which have also been a great success story.
Suburban trains in Mumbai a runaway success story of electrification of transportation, catering to 7.5 Million passengers a day is a classic case.
Another electrified transport in the country are the Trams of Kolkatta.
Electric Transportation is thus a well established mode of transport specifically for mass transportation and well accepted.
Despite the Electrified Rail network forming the backbone of the country’s transport network, the demand for road transport has increased faster. This growth could be attributed to both demand-side and supply-side factors. On the supply side, intense competition from the mostly privately run road transport services, coupled with operating inflexibilities and capacity constraints on key Indian Railways routes, entry of large no of automobile companies with attractive financing options, the thrust on National Highway development, increasing income of the middle class etc. have been instrumental in increasing the modal share of roads.
The steep increase in modal share of roads has been the main driver for India’s unabated demand for increasing oil imports.
Debroy committee has come out with a detailed plan for increasing the modal share of rail transportation. The work on the Dedicated Freight Corridors are going on in full swing with a view to increase the railway freight. The committee has also recommended Private participation in Railways with a view to increase the rail service availability.
Development of the rail based electric transportation systems are highly capital intensive and the gestation time is also quite high. Introduction of private participation in building railroads would require legislative changes and approvals and will take another few years for it to materialize.
In the meanwhile, there is a well established technology of using overhead electrified lines for powering the buses & trucks without requirement for rails.
Railway Electrification concept for Roads:
The recent technology development of using railway electrification concept of Overhead Electrification System with pantograph on regular buses & trucks provides an excellent option for electrification of road transportation in India. While the railway electric Loco type pantograph system is a recent innovation, the other systems of the Electric bus / truck are same as the well established Electric Trolley Bus systems which are operational for more than 50 years in over 40 countries.
An Electric trolleybus (also known as trolley coach, trackless trolley, trackless tram [in early years] or simply trolley) is an electric bus that runs on the existing roads and draws its electricity from overhead wires (generally suspended from roadside posts) using spring-loaded trolley poles. Two wires and poles are required to complete the electrical circuit. This differs from a tram or streetcar, which normally uses the track as the return part of the electrical path and therefore needs only one wire and one pole (or pantograph). They also are distinct from other kinds of electric buses, which usually rely on batteries.
The cost of Overhead Electrification system of the Railways is about Rs 1.2 Crore / Km . While there are differences between Railway OHE system and that of the Electric Trolley Buses, however, the main component viz the Copper wire is the same. At current copper prices, the cable would cost about Rs 5 Lakhs / Km, and considering two cables, the cost of the cable is only Rs 10 Lakhs / Km. The other major component is the 800 KW AC-DC converter which would cost about Rs 1 Crore. Since each converter caters typically for about 3 Kms, cost/Km for the converter would be about Rs 33 Lakhs. Factoring in the pole, civil construction and supply cables, etc it would translate to about Rs 60 Lakhs/Km. rest would be cost of engineering, construction & financing costs. Almost all components can be sourced domestically. Typically each converter would support simultaneous running of 8 – 10 vehicles. Thus with electrification of 20 Kms ( 10 Kms each way ), 25 vehicles each way can run simultaneously. Considering departure of 1 bus every minute, the passenger transportation capacity will be about 4000 passengers per hour per direction.
The Electric trolley Bus infrastructure cost is less than 1% of the cost of Metro and is ideally suited for most cities where there are no Metros .
Best part of the Electric Trolley bus is that it does not need any separate roads. The existing roads can be electrified. However, dedicated corridor can increase the frequency of operation.
Electric Trolley Buses are a very good low cost mass transportation system for our nation.
Extending the ETB concept for Highways, Siemens has developed the concept of E-Highway for electrified freight transportation back in 2012. The system comprises a hybrid truck that draws power from overhead electric cables for the bulk of its journey, switching to diesel power at the very start and end of a journey on smaller roads that don’t have the power lines.
Following a successful trial in Sweden, the system is now up and running on a 2 km stretch of road near Stockholm. Video of the same can be seen on the following link. https://youtu.be/pWCS0If2W1c
Now Germany is getting interested, with Siemens announcing a plan to install the system on a 6-mile (10 km) stretch of the nation’s autobahn near Frankfurt.
Basically Siemens has modified the Railway pantograph system for the twin cable system of the Electric trolley Bus which enables high speed operation of the trucks at 90 KM/hr. The slow speed of the ETBs normally limited to about 40 Km/hr, in order to avoid dewiring; was a inhibiting factor for adoption for Highway operations. This has now been overcome by Siemens.
Another disadvantage of the Electric Trolley Buses earlier were due to inflexible operation of the Trolley Bus since they were limited to the route wherever the overhead lines were available. This limitation has now been overcome with the present day Hybrid systems with batteries which allow operation of the bus without the wires.
Electrifying the Golden Quadrilateral :
The previous NDA government is credited for developing the Golden Quadrilateral and the present government can add on to that by Electrifying the same.
Unlike the Dedicated Freight Corridors which take more than a decade to be realized, the E-Highways can be constructed within months since there will be no right of way issues.
There are dozens of very good Infrastructure EPC companies and empanelled railway electrification contractors who have the expertise to build these overhead electrification systems. Considering the fact that, our key strength is in development of low cost infrastructure, it may be a prudent policy to give priority to Grid Connected Electric passenger/freight transport vehicles, which would lead to huge job creation and use of domestic components.
ECONOMICS OF GRID CONNECTED EVs:
A 100 KW AC asynchronous / synchronous electric motor would cost about Rs 8-10 Lakhs and the inverter would cost about the same. The Vehicle would require only 10-15 KWhr of battery costing about Rs 2.5 Lakhs. The pantograph if manufactured domestically should cost about Rs 5 Lakhs. With Chassis & bus body at about Rs 40 Lakhs, the bus/ trucks can be manufactured in India at about Rs 70 Lakhs. On road price can be Rs 1 Cr. The total project cost ( including cost of bus + OHE system) for a typical route of 15 + 15 Km with a round trip time of 90 minutes which would need 45 buses ( 2 min freq) will work out to about Rs 75 Crores. If the gov’t were to extend the 30% subsidy for both the OHE and the bus; the project cost would come down to about Rs 50 Crores. Considering a Fixed cost recovery of 20%, the annual fixed cost would be Rs 10 Crores. Considering Annual operating distance per bus of 75000 Kms, the fixed cost rate /Km works out to Rs 30 /Km. The cost of power considering Rs 5 /KWhr @ 1 KWhr/Km works out to Rs 5 / Km.
The total cost per Km for the Grid connected Vehicle, therefore works out to Rs 35 / Km. If the frequency of operation is increased, the rates would come down further. Considering 60 passengers / bus, the per KM per passenger cost would be only Rs 0.60 / Km ( US 1 cent/Km) for airconditioned travel.
BHEL has been a long standing partner of Siemens in the country and can tie- up for technology transfer with Siemens for the pantograph technology and can partner with the domestic bus and truck companies for manufacturing the grid connected buses & trucks.
Considering the fact that Railways were able to achieve 1000 Kms / Year of electrification, by dividing the 6000 Kms of Golden Quadrilateral into dozens of contracts, the entire Golden quadrilateral can be electrified in 2 years .
Till the price of Lithium batteries come down to more reasonable levels, promoting the Grid Connected Electrified passenger / freight road transport, may be a better option which can be taken up immediately without need for any legislative approvals. The entire electrification network can be built thru Private participation without any investment from the Government.
Grid Connected Electric Vehicles for passenger & freight provides an optimum solution for rapid electrification of transportation leveraging our strengths in railway electrification. Electrification of 6000 Kms of National Highways and shifting to Grid Connected Electric vehicles is a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” ( BHAG ) that has the potential to leap-frog the country to an “Electrified” nation, within 2 years, effect huge reduction in oil imports, enable development of 175 GW of renewables, achieve zero-emission transportation, enable huge job creation, achieve double digit growth rate & re-energize the Nation.