8 global rail projects harnessing the power of solar energy

We already know that travelling by train is better for the planet than going by petroleum-powered car. And with climate change becoming more important in both infrastructure planning and passenger perceptions, train travel has a renewed relevance. One of the most exciting areas of potential for rail is solar energy – which absorbs the sun’s rays as a source of energy for generating electricity or heating. In 2015, 1.05% of the world’s energy was produced by solar panels. But the International Energy Agency has recognised that solar energy does have the capability to be the largest provider of electricity by 2050. The cost of manufacture and installation of solar panels has fallen consistently and a number of government are supporting their proliferation with grants subsidies. Solar power could completely replace fossil fuels for trains, not to mention powering stations and trackside technologies. So today we look at seven projects from around the world that are always harnessing the power of the sun.

1. California

Resized Solar Trains Fremont.jpgThe U.S. State which is so often at the cutting edge of sustainable and renewable developments, is the home of Solar Trains, a start-up that is proposing constructing a network of solar canopies over miles of train track, enough to solar-power electric train systems. The team behind the company see the potential in solar panels on canopies above trains (see below) rather than on the trains themselves. They state that one 300 watt solar panel can provide up to 7,000 miles of a person’s train commuting per year.



2. London Blackfriars

During the stations re-development in 2011, a project was launched with solar installation firm Solarcentury to fit 4,400 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the bridge to provide up to half of the energy required to power the central London station. As reported by Business Green, David Stratham, the managing director of First Capital Connect said “Electric trains are already the greenest form of public transport – this roof gives our passengers an even more sustainable journey. The distinctive roof has also turned our station into an iconic landmark visible for miles along the River Thames.” First Capital Connect, which runs Blackfriars launched the project to reduce co2 emissions which were being produced by its train routes into the capital.

3. Belgium

Whereas in Belgium 2011, the first train high-speed rail line was being generated by 16,000 solar panels fitted along a two mile Belgium tail tunnel. The railway connects Paris to Amsterdam and the electricity which is produced is able to power all of Belgium’s trains for one day every year as well as Antwerp station. At the time, Bart Van Renterghem, UK head of Belgian renewable energy company Enfinity, which installed the panels said: “For train operators, it is the perfect way to cut their carbon footprints because you can use spaces that have no other economic value and the projects can be delivered within a year because they don’t attract the protests that wind power does.

4. Chile

The most recent solar developments this year have been in Chile and India. Chile is the world’s first metro that will run on this renewable energy source. As reported by SmartRail World, The powerplant Sunpower will provide its solar energy to the Santiago Metro (pictured right) which will cover up to 60% of its electrical uses. Eduardo Medina, executive vice president, global power plants, SunPower said that “Solar is an ideal energy source for Chile because of the country’s high solar resource and transparent energy policies. In partnership with Total, SunPower is committed to the continued growth of our business in Chile.


5. Indian Stations…

However, India seems to be making the biggest headway in its sustainable efforts. The country’s railways have ambitious targets for the future. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation in New Delhi India has been fitted solar panels on top of the rooftops of its stations and offices by 2017. They are expected to generate 20MW of solar energy by the end of 2017. According to local press, the DMRC as it stands consumes around 3% of Delhi’s total energy.


6… and Indian Trains

Earlier this year, India’s first solar panel-fitted train began commencing trials, powered by rooftop solar panels. In 2015, Northern Railways had fitted one coach of the Rewari-Sitapur broad gauge passenger train with solar panels. However, this is the first DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Unit) train, in which all coaches have solar panels, reports the Financial Express.

The trials are still ongoing says Tarun Jain, the Chief Public Relations Officer of North Western Railways. “We will begin trials of this solar-panel fitted train shortly. We are awaiting some final clearances. After intensive trials, we will be able to gauge the performance of the solar panels. Only then any decision on scaling up the scope of the solar panels can be taken,”


7. Valley Metro, Arizona

Valley Metro solar panels (picture courtesy of Valley Metro)Last month, Valley Metro revealed their plans to install solar panels on their networks to power their transit facilities in Tempe, Arizona (pictured left). The 537kW solar project aims to power 33% of its power needs. 1,704 panels will be fitted on top of bus ports to increase the city’s renewable energy use from 6.5%-8% and save the company more than $411,000 in utility costs over 20 years. Temple Mayor and Valley Metro RPTA Board Member Mark Mitchell said that it “brings together two of the city’s main energy conservation and sustainability efforts, combining a public transit facility with solar energy production. The EVBOM solar installation furthers Tempe’s ongoing commitment to the environment, reducing pollution with clean energy use while saving money.” The solar panels will produce 831,445 kWh of energy in the first year, reducing carbon emissions by more than 580 metric tons – equivalent to taking 123 vehicles off the road each year. The project is expected to be finished by the end of this month.


8. Italy

Greenrail solar.jpg is an Italian startup founded in 2012 as a result of the company’s CEO’s innovative idea of eco-sustainable, innovative railway sleepers, which would change the rail industry in several ways: not only improve the railway lines’ quality by reducing noise, vibration and maintenance cost, but also help with waste management and harvest energy, thanks to the integrated systems. Greenrail sleepers consist of a reinforced concrete inner core and an outer shell obtained from a blend of rubber from End of Life Tyres (ELT) and recycled plastic. Every kilometer of a railway line equipped with Greenrail sleepers, allows to reuse 35 tons of these materials.

The company, thanks to winning the funding from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 SME Instrument Phase 2 programme (“Small business innovation research for Transport ands Smart Cities Mobility), is currently in the phase of research and development of other kinds of Greenrail sleepers that would be endowed with various systems. One of them is Greenrail Solar: equipped with a photovoltaic module, it would transfer every kilometer of a railway line into a photovoltaic field, able to produce up to 150 kWh of solar energy, which could be used to provide electricity for the stations and for the electrical grids. Another is Greenrail Linkbox: Greenrail Solar sleeper with systems both for transmission of data and telecommunication, which would be powered by the solar energy harvested by the sleeper’s photovoltaic modules.

Rewari-Sitapur broad gauge passenger train with solar panels. (Courtesy of Northern Railways)


With a variety of sectors and geographies looking at solar energy, the future looks bright for its continued involvement in rail and metro.

By Emily ODowd

Source: smartrailworld

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