The UK's Imperial College London and charity 10:10 have collaborated on the Renewable Traction Power project to investigate using track-side solar panels to run trains.
Network Rail currently is planning to invest in electrifying the UK’s train lines, which enables train travel to be decarbonised by 2050, if combined with increased renewable energy generation.
Set to start next month, the Renewable Traction project is a collaboration between 10:10, Turbo Power Systems (TPS), Community Energy South and Energy Futures Lab.
10:10 Renewable Traction project lead Leo Murray said: “What is particularly galling is that peak generation from solar and peak demand from the trains more or less match but we can’t connect the two.
“I actually believe this represents a real opportunity for some innovative thinking.”
Initially as part of the project, third rail systems are expected to be converted. They supply electricity to the locomotive through a power line, which runs close to the ground.
The rail systems have the advantage of matching the way electricity is supplied by solar panels as direct current.
Imperial College London Energy Futures Lab director Tim Green said: “Many railway lines run through areas with great potential for solarpower but where existing electricity networks are hard to access.
“I think that focusing on the basics of integrating distributed energy generators into a railway’s system with the third-rail network brings a lot of benefits.”
By concentrating on the third rail, the team will be able to establish how to match the DC power of solar panels to DC railway lines without converting to AC in the middle.
Technical aspects of the project will be a collaboration between researchers at Imperial College London and TPS.
The project is funded through Innovate UK’s Energy Game Changers programme and will release the results of its feasibility study later on this year.