We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Greener Transport for Third-Rail Commuter Routes - Imperial College Looks at Solar Power

Slowly but surely UK's railways are being electrified, but although switching from diesel to electricity increases energy efficiency considerably we still need to burn a lot of fossil fuel to make electricity. Reducing fossil fuel burn is becoming increasingly urgent and important and in some areas of the country through which trains run the grid can barely cope.

Now the Renewable Traction Project, a consortium based in the Energy Futures Laboratory at Imperial College, London has come up with a new idea. Although used on only one third of the UK rail network, existing third-rail lines could benefit from solar power for a significant proportion of their energy requirements.

More trains run during daylight hours than at night, there is plenty of space for panels along most lines and these lines use DC electricity - all factors which very much suit solar power as a direct source. Even more convenient is the fact that solar panel arrays can already supply power at around 600 V DC to tram systems, can deliver up 1,000 V DC in USA and could fairly easily be matched to the 750 V DC working voltage of a third-rail railway in UK. The lack of DC/AC conversion increases the practicality and improves the economics.

The Renewable Traction Project is a consortium made up of Imperial College, Turbo Power Systems, 10:10, and Community Energy South. It is supported by the UK's Swindon-based Innovation Agency, set up by the Labour government in 2007. They have now provided £1.8 billion of matched funding to de-risk, enable and support innovative technological development.They claim to have helped over 7,600 organisations with projects whichare estimated to have added £11.5 billion to the UK economy and created 55,000 extra new jobs.

At the moment the consortium is looking at suitable pilot sites and say that the DC network south of London would be ideal as well as on the outer edges of the Tube network. However, other prime candidates for offering pilot sites might be MerseyRail and the Tyne & Wear Metro.

When they have proved the concept they envisage an expanding export market in California and India in addition to domestic sales.