Installing solar panels alongside railway track in the UK could save Network Rail £30M and 895,000t of carbon a year, according to consultant WSP.
This translates into a £150M saving over the next five year control period.
WSP’s calculations show that if solar panels were installed on 50% of the trackside land in the UK, they could generate 2.44GW of electricity, around 40% of the electricity Network Rail currently uses to power trains.
It would also increase solar energy production in the UK by nearly half – currently the country has around 5GW of installed solar photovoltaics (PV).
Although Network Rail would find it difficult to fund the £2.9bn installation programme itself, WSP says the project would be attractive to a third party investor.
“A scheme like this could generate revenue of £235m in its first year, a return on investment of over 8%. It benefits from having two guaranteed revenue streams – firstly through the Feed In Tariff for renewable electricity but also by selling the electricity back to Network Rail at a reduced rate,” said WSP renewable energy expert Barny Evans. “It’s a win-win situation; the investors get a return and Network Rail could save millions of pounds on their electricity bill and reduce their carbon footprint without spending a penny.”
Inits report, Creating Value in our Rail Network, WSP also highlighted the under-utilisation of “tier two” stations and suggests there is the potential for creating additional revenue streams by maximising the existing space and making it more energy efficient. An example would be improving and/or providing retail and entertainment facilities to make railway stations community hubs, in the same way many of major stations are now destinations in their own right rather than simply transport interchanges.
“Our rail network is under enormous pressure due to decreasing public investment and steadily increasing demand and so delivering value is becoming crucial,” said WSP UK head of rail Julie Carrier. “It’s a challenge that requires creativity - trackside solar panels and improving tier two stations is just the beginning. Network Rail is a major land owner, with around 122,000ha in England alone, so there are huge opportunities by making their land work harder for them.”