Andrew Aitchison/Getty Images
The world’s first solar farm to directly power a railway line has been plugged in – a development that could lay the foundations for the world’s first solar-powered trains.
Social enterprise Riding Sunbeams has installed about 100 solar panels near a train station in Aldershot, southeast England. Energy captured by the 30kWp solar panels will directly supply signaling and lights.
If successful, the Aldershot project – a collaboration between climate change charity 10:10, Community Energy South and national rail infrastructure operator Network Rail – could lay the foundations for larger projects that would directly power trains, metros and trams across the country, and around the world.
“Helping to get the railways off fossil fuels in this way will cut running costs and benefit local communities at the same time as helping to tackle the climate crisis,” Leo Murray, director Riding Sunbeams said in a statement.
Solar panels are already used to power some train stations and vehicles around the world – in Australia, developers unveiled a battery-powered train charged by solar, and in India, solar is supplying diesel engines with extra power.
Several train stations around the world are also powered to some degree by solar energy, including London Blackfriars and Antwerp Central Station.
Riding Sunbeams believes that the power could be supplied at a lower cost than grid-supplied electricity, and aims to encourage local investment in the scheme.
“This time next year, we’ll be in a position to connect a megawatt-scale solar farm with our pilot cohort of about five or six community owned solar farms,” Murray told CNN.
“We have ambitions to roll this technology out further across the network should this demonstrator project prove successful, so we can deliver a greener, better railway for our passengers and the wider public,” Stuart Kistruck, director of route asset management for Network Rail’s Wessex Route, said in a statement.