Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Source: RTM June/July

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action.

Contractors are clearing our site in Aldershot to make way for Riding Sunbeams’ ‘First Light’ test unit, demonstrating that supplying solar power direct from the generator to the DC third rail traction system can be done safely, efficiently and ultimately at a lower cost than grid-supplied traction power.

This will be a world first, and we have the support of Network Rail, the DfT and InnovateUK to blaze this trail.

We should be connecting the first Megawatt scale, community and commuter owned, solar traction farms to Britain’s DC railways before the end of 2020, helping power our trains on cheap, clean electricity generated from the sun.

But of course, almost all new electrification today uses the AC overhead line traction system. The system’s architecture is much less amenable to retrofit of private wire supply.

This means that if we want to use renewable electricity straight from the generator to meet traction demand on AC routes, we need to focus on integrating these technologies at the design stage of electrification works.

Here we face another barrier; most of the UK’s planned electrification schemes have been ‘paused’ by Chris Grayling, leaving few opportunities to bring our innovation into play on AC networks in the UK.

So, we looked to Wales. Devolution of transport planning authority has put the Welsh Government in the drivers’ cab of the Welsh railways, with Network Rail’s Wales and the Borders Route working closely with Transport for Wales (TfW) on an ambitious programme of upgrades and renewals which will together make up the South Wales Metro and associated lines.


Using TfW and Network Rail’s detailed models of spatial traction load characteristics for selected routes, we will be able to shortlist sites where we can add most value by supporting the new traction load with a combination of renewable generation and storage. These sites would directly supply the lines with low-cost, low-carbon electricity.

We will also assess whether integration of lineside renewables and storage could help improve the business case for extension of the electrified network in South Wales in the future.

Perhaps this will be through charging the on-board batteries in the new tri-mode trains that will operate these routes as a cheaper alternative to catenary cabling at branch peripheries.

Riding Sunbeams’ sees South Wales as the perfect test bed for 21st century technologies that have the potential to transform the way railways are powered in the future - we’re very fortunate network operators share our appetite for adventure.



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