“Too many people feel compromised and unsatisfied by their work, an activity that we spend more of our waking hours doing than anything else. Why settle for anything less than satisfaction?"
Climate change, fossil fuels and going green have become a part of everyday rhetoric. Now more than ever before, change is being called for by authorities and consumers. These changes will have an effect on all industries, including the rail industry. As it stands the industry is already making waves and is and offers passengers across the globe a green mode of travel but there is still more that can be done. With solar energy becoming ever more affordable and reliable – in 2015 solar panels produced 1.05% of the worlds energy – it is hoped that by 2050 solar energy will be the largest provider of electricity. Solar Trains are working hard to make this happen and to make solar power a viable alternative for train operators. This week SmartRail World’s Sarah Wright talks to the CEO of Californian start-up, Solar Trains LLC, Tam Hunt. We learn more about the panels they hope will make solar power and rail the perfect match and hear about the challenges of convincing the industry to pursue sustainable alternatives.
Sarah Wright (SW): How did you get into the rail industry?
Tam Hunt (TH): I began in the solar and renewable energy industry, where I am still based, but I also had a background in green transportation. As I realized how the costs of solar were likely to continue to plummet, I thought through how more kinds of surfaces could and would be covered in solar panels. I remember thinking, a large already-disturbed open space exists over and near train tracks throughout the world. On top of this there is a strong growth trend in electric trains and a move away from diesel trains. So, it became pretty obvious that solar panels over and near train tracks -- what we call "railway solar" -- was set to be a booming business.
SW: What do like most about your job?
TH: That I never feel compromised. Too many people feel compromised and unsatisfied by their work, an activity that we spend more of our waking hours doing than anything else. Why settle for anything less than satisfaction? Through a combination of good luck and conscious intention I've been able to carve out a career doing work that I feel is necessary, beneficial and the wave of the future. And being my own boss is just icing on the cake!
SW: What is the biggest challenge in your role?
TH: Convincing train operators that railway solar is safe, reliable and cost-effective. Any new technology faces major hurdles. And train operators -- particularly train engineers -- are some of the most conservative types around. We're working on establishing a track record with pilot installations and showing that solar panels over or near train tracks can operate without interfering normal operations.
SW: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in 10 years’ time?
TH: The two key trends will be both increasing electrification of trains and increasing solarization of trains. Since electrification is well underway in the U.S. and around the world that will be the leading edge for solarization because it's actually easier to solarize than it is to electrify. We will see the solarization of trains starting and gaining steam (forgive the inaccurate metaphor!) first with commuter and intercity rail, and then over time spreading to high-speed rail and freight rail.
SW: What’s your favourite rail journey?
TH: As of now, it's the long haul from Santa Barbara to Seattle on the Coast Starlight. This journey was particularly memorable because by pure chance one of my best friends was on the same train ride, it was also on this same train ride that I met an amazing girl from Holland who I still keep in touch with. But I'll be visiting China for a while next year and I expect that I may find some rivals! After all in China they have thousands of miles of high speed electric trains.
SW: Tam thanks for your time and it was great to hear from you!
Read more about this excitng transport innovation subject here: 8 global rail projects harnessing the power of solar energy.
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The last 5 minutes with... Min Cheol Jeong, CEO and President NeoTrans (South Korea)
5 minutes with will return in January - we hope you have a great Christmas!