Solar PV linked directly to the rail system could supply a significant parti of the system’s power needs, according to a new report, “Riding Sunbeams” supported by 10:10, Imperial College, Innovate UK and Community Energy England.
The researchers found that solar PV was technically a good fit for rail supplies, in areas where ‘third rail’ direct current was used. It could meet a tenth of the system’s power needs in those areas, when used with storage to feed power in as trains pass.
The researchers said that rail is “the ideal client for private wire supply: industrial level power consumption during daylight hours, AA credit rating and a structural imperative to remain in-situ, using all of the electricity generated for the full operational lifetime of the equipment.” That meant PV would be viable without public subsidy, it said.
Rail use also fits with PV because demand is not confined to a single large site, but distributed across thousands of kilometres of track.
The authors do not propose to use the areas beside existing tracks to install PV, saying that would involve, “large additional costs, operational constraints and practical challenges,” which would mean it was not likely to be commercially viable. Instead, they consider using sites adjacent to or near railway lines. But they note that rail companies are large property owners in their own rights, who could install solar PV “along currently unproductive rail corridors and sidings”.