First Light project kicks off move to power UK's trains from solar
A social enterprise in the UK today switched on the first solar array to provide power to a railway line, and will now investigate how to scale up to eventually directly power trains from solar.
The First Light demonstrator project is the work of Riding Sunbeams, in collaboration with climate change charity 10:10, Community Energy South and Network Rail.
It blossomed from a study from 10:10 and Imperial College London's Energy Futures Lab which showed that rail, tube and tram networks could get much of their required power from connected solar arrays. And that this supply could be delivered at significantly lower cost than the grid-based system currently in use.
"Matchmaking the UK’s biggest electricity user, the railways, with the nation’s favorite energy source, solar power, looks like the start of the perfect relationship," said Leo Murray, Director of Riding Sunbeams. "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."
Starting relatively small, the project has installed 100 photovoltaic panels near railway tracks in Aldershot, where the 30 kWp test unit is connected to an ancillary transformer and the electricity produced used to power signaling and lights.
At the same time, Riding Sunbeams is gathering electricity demand data from half a dozen potential community solar sites in the south of the UK to determine how to plug in much larger solar arrays that will be able to directly power trains. And by the end of 2020, the company is looking to build and hook up the world's first full-scale community – and commuter-owned – solar farm to UK rail networks.
"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," commented Network Rail's Stuart Kistruck.