ENGLAND

Trains are about to get a little bit greener in a small part of Wessex today. Because in a world first a solar array is going to send power directly to UK railways’ traction systems, without disrupting train operations’.

Leading the innovative project is social enterprise Riding Sunbeams. It is switching on the array as part of the ‘First Light’ demonstrator project being delivered in collaboration with climate change non-profit 10:10, Community Energy South and national rail infrastructure operator Network Rail. We reported in 2017 the initial study that ultimately got the ‘First Light’ project rolling. Carried out between 10:10 and Imperial College London it looked at how solar panels connected to substations might perform in supplying energy to the network. Fast forward to 2020 and the results of that research have helped build a solar test unit with 100 solar panels. The system is ‘connected to an ancillary transformer on the Wessex Route’s traction system, with energy from the array set to power signalling and lights’.

“Matchmaking the UK’s biggest electricity user, the railways, with the nation’s favourite energy source, solar power, looks like the start of the perfect relationship. 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,” said Leo Murray, Director of Riding Sunbeams.

Data collected from potential community solar sites in the region will be used to plan for plugging in larger arrays that can power trains. Riding Sunbeams then aims to deliver the ‘world’s first ever full-scale community- and commuter-owned solar farm to UK railways’ later next year.

“We are proud to be working with 10:10, Community Energy South and our other stakeholders to deliver this exciting world-first project on the Wessex route,” added Stuart Kistruck, Director of route asset management for Network Rail’s Wessex Route. “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.”