"The Renewable Traction Power project demonstrates that we can harness solar to help make this a reality for our train network."
The challenge faced by rail operators of powering the growing numbers of electric trains could be solved by the sun’s rays, after a UK energy research group said that solar energy could help part-power services. The Energy Futures Lab, a division of Imperial College London, has released a report with the climate change charity, 10:10, which details how subsidy-free power can be directly connected to substations which provide power to the rail system.
The sustainability drive by Energy Futures Lab and 10:10, Renewable Traction Power, was launched at the beginning of the year tasked with “significantly decarbonising” rail travel by 2050. As part of that initial research, the two organisations found that energy storage devices connected to photovoltaic panels could supply around 10% of the energy needed to power trains on the UK’s DC-electrified routes annually.
As outlined in the report, Energy Futures Lab and 10:10 says that the benefit of using substations installed close to the tracks is that they would bypass mains power, a subsidy-free form of electricity that is both more sustainable and cheaper than what is currently available through the grid.
Professor Tim Green, director of Energy Futures Lab, said that decarbonising transport was a vital factor in helping the UK meet its climate change reduction targets. “The Renewable Traction Power project demonstrates that we can harness solar to help make this a reality for our train network,” said Green, who added that it was through collaborations like Renewable Traction Power that would bring positive results because of the wider range of knowledge.
Renewable Traction Power has focused its attention on commuter-based services to the south of London, where it says that the installation of 200 small solar farms could provide 15% of the total power needed for the region’s rail network power needs.
In 2014, 10:10 first began to look into the possibility of ‘directly powering’ the rail network in Balcombe in Sussex, where the climate change charity had planned to install a solar farm to help meet the entire village’s electricity needs. In producing the electricity, 10:10 encountered the problem of not knowing where to plug that power into an already-clogged system. A member of the Balcombe team suggested using the harvested power to run the electric railway that ran through the village, an idea that led to the creation of the Renewable Traction Power project.
The latest research could be particularly good news for rail operators closer to the equator, where the sun’s rays that are often stronger could enable them to run entirely on solar power and with no reliance on local electricity grids.
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