Riding sunbeams – solar trains get a pilot scheme

This is a project I’ve been following for a few years now – can we power electric trains directly from trackside solar power? 10:10 proposed it a while back, and then published a very encouraging feasibility study at the end of 2017.  They found that it was technically possible, and would reduce carbon emissions and railway operating costs at the same time. Combine it with community energy, and you have something truly transformative.

Since then they’ve been working with community energy groups to assess six different sites in the South of England, and a pilot project has been announced. A section of the railway between London and Weymouth will host the world’s first solar traction experiment, its 100 panels or so providing a test bed for the connection technologies and some initial data on how it works. It will be fitted this summer. If all goes to plan, a full scale community-owned solar traction plant could be installed on the railways as soon as 2020.

It usually takes forever to get anything done on Britain’s railways – Luton has been waiting 10 years for a new station. If HS2 completes on time, it will be 24 years from start to finish. Solar traction seems admirably speedy by comparison, potentially going from a ‘what if’ sort of idea to implementation in a mere half decade. I’m sure it doesn’t feel fast to the team involved, but that’s an express train of an idea.

To keep it moving, 10:10 and Community Energy South have created a new company, Riding Sunbeams Ltd. As well as the Weymouth experiment, they’re looking at how solar could play a role in electrifying lines in Wales, possibly connecting them to wind farms as well. It looks like there’s a lot more to come, and I suspect it won’t be long before we start hearing about similar projects from other parts of the world too.


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