Train Station in setting sun

World’s first solar railway could open this year

Sunshine could power the world’s first solar railway by the end of 2020, thanks to an innovative project currently in development.

Social enterprise Riding Sunbeams, a joint venture between 10:10 Climate Action and Community Energy South, aims to connect renewable energy directly into electrified rail routes to power train travel. Currently, the organisation is working with local community energy groups to conduct feasibility studies on six potential Megawatt scale solar sites in the south-east of England.

While solar panels are already used to power train station operations including Blackfriars in central London, the Riding Sunbeams project is the first time a solar array will bypass the electricity grid to plug directly into a railway’s traction system.

The project would see the installation of solar farms next to train tracks on embankments, train sheds, nearby fields and industrial buildings, able to power the railway directly.

A successful test in 2019, funded by the Department of Transport demonstrated that it was possible to connect solar photovoltaic panels directly into the electrified rail network to power trains – something that has never been done before, anywhere in the world.

But despite the compatibility of the technology, Leo Murray, director of innovation for 10:10 Climate Action admitted to Rail Engineer magazine that there were still technological challenges around energy load: “By its nature, the supply is intermittent and we have a very peaky load. And of course, the periods of peak demand and peak generation don’t coincide.”

If further tests are shown to be viable the scheme will eventually be delivered in partnership with Wight Community Energy, Community Energy South and stakeholders including Southern Water, Network Rail and South Western Railways – with estimates that solar could eventually power 20 per cent of the Merseyrail network in Liverpool, and 15 per cent of commuter routes in Kent and Sussex, as well as provide scope for solar trams in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, London and Manchester.

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