Riding Sunbeams – Powering The Railways With Solar PV

riding sunbeams
Wendi Wheeler

Wendi Wheeler, Network Rail’s Energy & Carbon Strategy Manager

Case study with Wendi Wheeler on Wednesday 27th November 2019, 12:10 – 12:50 in the Built Environment, Technology and Innovation Theatre.

With the aim to leverage renewable energy and reduce its carbon footprint, Network Rail has collaborated with Riding Sunbeams to use solar panels to power trains in south-east England and launched the first pilot scheme.

The world’s first solar farm to power a railway line directly plugged into the track near Aldershot, paving the way for solar-powered trains.

About 100 solar panels at the trackside site supply renewable electricity to power the signalling and lights on Network Rail’s Wessex route.

The 30kW pilot scheme could pave the way for a larger project capable of directly powering the trains that use this route from next year.

The solar breakthrough comes as Network Rail plans to spend billions of pounds electrifying rail lines to avoid running trains on diesel. This could help reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and costs.

The research team behind the project, called Riding Sunbeams, estimates that solar could power 20% of the Merseyrail network in Liverpool, as well as 15% of commuter routes in Kent, Sussex and Wessex. There is also scope for solar trams in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, London and Manchester, according to the team. The researchers began work on the plans over two years ago to discover whether bypassing the electricity grid could make solar power a more efficient energy source for trains.

Leo Murray, the director of Riding Sunbeams, said future projects across the UK could be community-owned, and pay back benefits to local community funds. By the end of 2020, Riding Sunbeams hopes to build and connect the world’s first-ever full-scale community- and commuter-owned solar farm to UK railways.

Murray said the railways will be able to cut their running costs and benefit local communities while playing a part in tackling the climate crisis.

Matchmaking the UK’s biggest electricity user, the railways, with the nation’s favourite energy source, solar power, looks like the start of the perfect relationship.”

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