Hampshire rail line first to be powered by solar energy
On Friday, roughly 100 solar panels began to supply electricity to power the signalling and lights on Network Rail’s Wessex route.
This will be the first time a network of solar panels has been used to directly power a railway line.
The 30 kilowatt pilot will feed into the network power supply near Aldershot and is believed to pave the way for solar-powered trains.
This new project comes as Network Rail have drawn up plans to invest billions of pounds to electrify rail lines.
Currently, trains run on diesel engines and the use of renewable electricity is designed to reduce air pollution, the emission of greenhouse gases and save costs.
Although this is the first time solar energy has been used to power a railway line, it is already used to support the operation of train stations, including Blackfriars in London.
This new scheme will bypass the electricity grid to directly supply the railway’s “traction” system.
The pilot, developed by the charity 10:10 Climate Action and Imperial College London, is then scheduled to be extended to power rail lines across the UK.
The director of Network Rail’s Wessex route, Stuart Kistruck, said: “We have ambitions to roll this technology out further across the network should this demonstrator project prove successful, so we can deliver a greener, better railway for our passengers and the wider public.”
It is estimated that solar power could power a fifth of the Merseyrail network as well as 15 per cent of commuter routes in Kent, Sussex and Wessex.
According to the team behind the development, solar power could also be used to power trams in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Nottingham.
The project was funded by Innovate UK and the Department of Transport after they were able to prove that directly connecting solar power to transport networks could help meet the need for electricity supply.
Leo Murray, the director of Riding Sunbeams, the research team behind the pilot, said future projects could be community-owned and pay back the benefits to local community funds.
Riding Sunbeams hope to build and connect the world’s first full-scale community and commuter-owned solar farm for UK railways by 2020.