Will the Sun Power the Railways of the Near Future?

Transport has long been a target for cutting CO2 emissions, as countries around the world desperately look for new ways to generate energy through renewable sources. Recently, attention has turned to rail and suppliers to the rail industry, who are coming under pressure to offer the most efficient solutions for rail applications and to innovate in the way they deliver their services.


Solar power is already being utilised in the rail industry across the world but more ambitious plans are currently being tested in the UK to see if solar power is a feasible solution to a serious energy shortage problem.

Solar Powered Trains and Railways

Indian Railways are already running narrow gauge trains with solar panels on their roofs to power the lighting and fans. However, the 12 panels on each carriage generating 300watts are not enough to power air conditioning. A new broad gauge train with solar panels is currently being tested on the Jodhpur division of the North Western Railways.

In Belgium a railway line has covered a 2.1 mile long tunnel with 16,000 solar panels (an area of around 50,000m2). Opened in 2011, this tunnel has a capacity of 3.3GWh and is used to power 50% of the energy needs of the nearby Antwerp Central Station.

Closer to home, Blackfriars Mainline Station in London uses 4,400 solar panels to generate 900,000KWh, reducing its CO2 emissions by 490 tonnes a year.

Big Plans for the Future

Climate change charity 10:10 and researchers at the Imperial College of London are taking the idea of solar power even further by launching the Renewable Traction Power project to examine the feasibility of installing trackside solar panels to power trains. This comes as the south of England is facing an energy crisis. The energy network is at full capacity so no new rolling stock can be added to railways, as there simply isn’t enough power to operate them. The project proposes to add solar energy to the system in the busiest parts of the network to provide cheap, clean energy to power more trains and ease the pressure on the local power grid.

Initial stage plans consist of using a third rail system, similar to the London Underground, to provide the power to move the trains through the electrified third rail rather than overhead wires. Feasibility studies are about to start taking place to see if this is a viable option to help power the UK’s railways.

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