Solar power could make up “significant share” of railway’s energy demand

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Solar panels could be used to power a sizeable chunk of Britain’s DC electric rail network, a new report has suggested.

Climate change charity 10:10 and Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab looked at the feasibility of using solar panels alongside the track to directly power the railway.

The report claims that 15 per cent of the commuter network in Kent, Sussex and Wessex could be powered directly by 200 small solar farms. It suggested that solar panels could also supply 6 per cent of the London Underground’s energy requirements and 20 per cent of the Merseyrail network.

The research team at 10:10 and Energy Futures Lab believe the renewable energy produced by trackside solar panels could also be supplied at a lower cost than power from the grid and “meet a significant share” of the electricity needs of rail, metro and tram networks up and down the country.

Funding is now being sought to develop a prototype, which will be trialled at “six to 10 community – and commuter-owned pilot projects”.


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Leo Murray, director of strategy at 10:10 Climate Action, said: “We are proud to be contributing to the kind of innovation now needed to support solar in the UK.

“Being able to sell cheap electricity directly to our largest power consumer could throw a vital lifeline to the nation’s favourite energy source, and the plunging costs of solar mean that it should actually be cheaper to run trains on solar-powered routes in the future.

“We are particularly excited about bringing commuters together with local communities to crowdfund investment in the first wave of these pioneering new solar projects.”

Professor Tim Green, director at Energy Futures Lab, added: “I believe that decarbonising our transport sector is key to meeting the UK’s climate targets. The Renewable Traction Power project demonstrates that we can harness solar to make this a reality for our train network.

“I think that this project, with partners from industry, non-governmental organisations and academia, demonstrates that the best way to tackle many of the issues we face is through collaboration and leveraging expertise.”

5 COMMENTS

  1. I think that this could be a worthwhile idea.

    Another report in today’s Times, says that batteries would also be involved. This would be a good idea, as would be a few wind turbines to charge the batteries at night.

    It is interesting to note, that all the lines mentioned are electrified using direct current third rail systems. With this type of electrification, I suspect it would be relatively easy to harvest the regenerative braking energy of the trains and store it in the trackside batteries for reuse later.

    There is also the problem with powering third-rail systems, which need to have regular feeds from the National Grid.

    Surely, these solar power stations could be used to create efficient and cost-effective third-railoelectrification on places like the Uckfield Branch and the Marshlink Line.

  2. This idea was floated about a year ago in a different blog. My comment then was along the lines:
    “What a field-day for criminals. All the kit just waiting for the taking. Roll up.”

    Strangely, no-one could come up with a reply…

  3. Why does all the electricity have to be generated by solar farms? Why cant Network Rail and Transport for London for the London Underground set up microgrids like the Brooklyn microgrid in New York and the similar scheme on trail at Rose Hill Oxford,where local people and businesses sell electricity from their rooftop solar panels to each other? The Mayor for London Sadiq Khan said he would introduce a non for profit London utility company.London is the worst area of the UK for rooftop solar,so a London energy company could promote using microgrids to its customers.If microgrids are used to power the Indian Railways,the solar panels could be put on the roofs of poor Indians homes,many of the them don`t have electricity.
    Vehicle to Grid from electric cars like the new Nissan Leaf can be used in the microgrids near the lines,and at the Rail Stations car parks,drivers letting their batteries be used to power the trains could be paid in cash,or with cheaper parking or train fare.

  4. Class 230 DEMU’s that Vivarail are converting these former LU D78 Stocks could be battery operated as well diesel powered units that will replace the Class 142’s and Class 143’s Diesel “Railbus” Pacers used on GWR and ATW. And WM Trains are receiving some of the Class 230’s that will be operated on Bletchley-Bedford and Coventry-Leamington Spa routes.

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