A solar array near Aldershot, Hampshire, is the first in the world to be connected to directly supply electricity to an adjacent railway line.
The 30kWp solar test unit is connected to an ancillary transformer on Network Rail’s Wessex Route’s traction system and is set to power signalling and lights.
By the end of 2020, the Riding Sunbeams project hopes to build and connect the world’s first ever full-scale community- and commuter-owned solar farm to the UK rail network. Electricity demand data will be gathered from this and five other potential community solar sites in the south of England to assess how to plug in much larger solar arrays to power trains.
Funded by the Department for Transport through a competition delivered by InnovateUK, the ‘First Light’ project was born out of an earlier study by 10:10 Climate Action and Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab, which showed that connecting solar panels directly to rail, tube and tram networks could meet a significant share of their electricity needs. Crucially, the research also found that power could be supplied at a lower cost than electricity supplied via the grid.
Leo Murray, director of Riding Sunbeams, said “Helping to get the railways off fossil fuels in this way will cut running costs and benefit local communities at the same time as helping to tackle the climate crisis.”
Stuart Kistruck, director of route asset management for Network Rail’s Wessex Route, 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.”
Colin McNaught, project director for Ricardo, which contributed experience in power generation research and in connecting and monitoring renewable energy technologies into existing infrastructure, said “This is an extremely exciting project and opens up opportunities to utilise renewable energy technologies in ways not previously possible. ”