Britain’s railways could be powered directly from solar power leading to a cheaper and lower carbon train service according to a new report released today.
The report Riding Sunbeams: Powering our railways with solar PV said new technology had been developed which would allow solar farms to be linked directly to electrified railway lines, bypassing the grid.
This could mean around a tenth of the energy required for the 5300km of electrified rail in the UK could come directly from renewable sources.
The body behind the report, climate change charity 10:10, said the cost of such a scheme would be competitive and could be developed without the need for public subsidy. It said power provided by scheme would be cheaper than that supplied by the gap between the two prices was set to widen in coming years.
Over other sources of renewable energy, 10:10 said solar offered important cost, engineering and efficiency advantages over other models.
The group said there were currently “major opportunities” to deploy the direct solar traction power on the London Underground, Merseyrail in Liverpool and on the Kent, Sussex and Wessex commuter rail networks. Other light rail and tram networks in London, Manchester, Birmingham Sheffield, Blackpool, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle could also benefit.
Despite trackside land not being viable for solar due to additional costs, it said neighbouring land could be used. Using these areas, it said 15% of the Kent, Sussex and Wessex routes, 6% of London Underground and 20% of Merseyside Rail’s traction demand could be provided.
Analysis conducted by the group indicated the first wave of six to ten solar traction farms could be community owned and built without subsidy if they were backed by a long term contract from Network Rail to buy the power generated.
According to 10:10, Network Rail is currently looking into the feasibility of this.
London Underground head of asset operations Peter McNaught said: “Improving London’s air quality and reducing our impact on the environment are key elements of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.
“We are constantly looking for ways to deliver our services in the most efficient and technologically-advanced way possible, and this report broadens our knowledge of how we could potentially use solar power to help run the Tube in the future.”