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Solar panels could provide ‘significant amount’ of UK’s future rail power

Solar panels could meet a significant amount of the energy needs for future electric trains, according to a new report.

Research from Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab and climate change charity 10:10 found that connecting solar panels directly to the railway network would provide around 10% of the energy required.

Solar arrays and integrated energy storage devices constructed along routes would be able to supply the system at a lower cost than the current national grid arrangement.

The study identifies a section of the commuter rail network south of London where 200 small solar farms could be installed. If just half were implemented it would provide around 15% of the total power necessary for DC trains to run.

“The Renewable Traction Power project demonstrates that we can harness solar to help make this a reality for our train network,” commented Professor Tim Green, director of the Energy Futures Lab. “This project also demonstrates that the best way to tackle many of the issues we face is through collaboration and leveraging expertise from a wide range of partners.”

The report also found that around 6% of the energy needed to power the London Underground could be created through 50 potential overground solar sites.

Similarly, 20% of Merseyrail’s electricity could be generated through solar power, with around 22 sites identified.

In the June/July edition of RTM, Dr Nathaniel Bottrell, research associate at Imperial College, explained that the aim of the university’s Renewable Traction Project was to significantly reduce carbon emissions across the UK.

However, with more and more electrification projects taking place the idea of creating new renewable energy sources could be central to the future of the rail network.

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DP   11/12/2017 at 15:55

The cynic in me says that 10% is not a “significant amount”. I’m all for renewable energy, but it strikes me that delivering power from renewable sources is unacceptably space intensive – that we’d have to blight the landscape with windfarms and solar panels to get the same output as a single nuclear power station.

ABB   11/12/2017 at 16:11

Solar power is a bit of a con to me: it generates electricity during the day, when there is a surplus of energy, but does nothing when electricity is really needed at night. Personally I think that hydro power is the way forward: near where I live, I can think of at least 5 wiers within a 5 mile radius. Think how many wiers there are nationally. Now think how much electricity could be generated by installing a small turbine on each. Little environmental damage would be done, as the wier itself disrupts the river, not the turbine.

Nickk   11/12/2017 at 20:07

A very similar story was run by RTM Feb 2015. My comment is still appropriate: It's hard enough keeping copper cabling safe from thieves - imagine the heyday to be had with free solar panels and their control gear... No scrap merchants needed here!

David   11/12/2017 at 20:11

Eh? Where on earth do you get that there is an electricity surplus during the daytime? By the way, ABB, you don't happen to work for a certain power/electrical company at all, do you..?

Jason Leahy   12/12/2017 at 08:48

The Renewable Traction Power Project will include battery storage for nighttime use.However the study says the solar farms can generate 100% of the power only in the summer,so I don`t know why hybrid co-location solar and wind farms can`t be used. As the solar farms outputs at 600-800v DC,I wonder if they could be connected directly to the 800v 350kw electric car chargers being developed by Porsche.According to the report Network Rail permits a range between 400v and 1000v DC,some electric car chargers are over 400v,I think the level 3 and Tesla Superchargers are 480v and Porsche is developing 800v and 900v chargers,so my guess is these chargers can be connected directly to the rails.With vehicle to grid which sends leccy from the cars batteries to the mains,electric cars in the future could power the trains.V2G chargers could be a part of park and ride schemes by being installed in train station car parks. A second research programme by Imperial College and charity 10:10 will look at connecting solar arrays to the overhead cables.I want the researchers to consider using microgrids like the Brooklyn Microgrid in New York and a similar scheme in Rose Hill Oxford,where neighbours and businesses sell electricity from their rooftop solar panels to each other.Microgrids can be setup by stations and rail lines. As the DC current from the solar panels has to be converted to 240v AC (in the UK) to be used in the homes and businesses,the voltage only needs to be stepped up to 25,000v.

Jbrown   12/12/2017 at 12:53

I a tremendous supporter of solar, however I feel it is a poor match for rail. Our industry imposes very large peak loads - the energy to accelerate a pendolino is significant! yet once accelerated will draw very little to continue at speed. I don't see how a distributed solar grid could survive such uneven loading, the current national grid supply with guaranteed nuclear supply is the only solution I can see that can absorbs these peak loads consistently wherever they happen in the country. Solar feeding into batteries at stations where you see this peak load more consistently could work, but the barrier there isn't the solar but the battery technology, though that is rapidly approaching maturity

Tothehills   12/12/2017 at 14:14

Slightly off topic, one of the big problems with local solar/micro power generation, the UK grid is designed to feed power from the central generation points to the recipients; i.e. voltage drops away from the source of generation. roof solar panels reverse that flow meaning that voltages to peoples houses can go out of specification. Likewise central generation of power has a "mass" to it (all that rotating kit). Micro-generation is "lighter" so the network is less stable as a whole. Not insoluble but an interesting issue, possible leading the way to hydrogen micro-generation with no central grid.

Neville Hill   14/12/2017 at 15:53

I enjoyed the expression, "...6% of the energy needed to power the London Underground could be created through 50 potential overground solar sites". I think the word 'overground' may have been superfluous...

GW   14/12/2017 at 17:22

They've been doing this on the continent for years. Blackfriars station is the first proper example of it here. Most other stations could contribute in one way or another, as well as depots. A lot of catching up to do in this country.

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