Solar Powered Rail Systems

The use of solar power has been on a relatively sharp increase over the course of the past 30 years. There are number of primary reasons why solar energy is being more widely utilized in recent times.

First, the cost of technology associated with solar energy has dropped dramatically in recent years. Indeed, in the past five years, the costs associated with new solar energy resources has made the installation of this type of equipment cheaper than any other more commonly utilized power alternative.

Second, the cost associated with using solar energy is cheap. Once the initial installation of solar energy equipment is completed, the collection of solar power to create electricity is cheaper that other energy generation technologies.

Third, solar power is becoming more widely used as individuals in the U.S.A. and elsewhere around the globe are becoming more environmentally conscious. An ever increasing number of people want to take at least some steps to “green” the manner in which they live. On key way of doing this is by lessening reliance of fossil fuels.

Finally, solar power is in growing demand because it is considered a safe energy resource. The same cannot always be sad of different energy resources, like nuclear power.

One area in which the use of solar energy is becoming more widely utilized is in regard to rail systems. This includes light rail systems most commonly associated with public transport.

Fully Solar Powered Railways

The utilization of solar power to propel or run railway cars is in its infancy. Nonetheless, there are some locations around the world in which solar energy is being utilized to propel railway cars.

An example of this type of utilization of solar energy in regard to a railway is found outside Budapest. In this location a solar powered railcar, called Vili, is in used. The railcar reaches a maximum speed of just under 16 miles per hour. The railcar is powered by 9.9m2 of PV panels. Beyond the onboard panels, off-board panels are also utilized to enhance the available electrical power for the railcar. The railcar is designed so that electricity is stored in on-board batteries.

Solar energy is also being tested on railcars in Italy. The testing in this country involves not only railcars but trams and trolleybuses as well.

Supplemental Energy for Onboard Functions

In addition to utilizing solar energy to power railcars, it is also being utilized for onboard functions. In other words, rather that solar energy being used to propel railcars (and similar vehicles), it is being utilized to power onboard equipment and devices.

For example, solar energy is being used to power such things as GPS devices. This not only does provide the benefits of solar energy on a smaller scale, it also works to improve such things as overall fleet management and efficiency. Other examples of how solar energy is being utilized in rail systems, short of propulsion, include video monitoring, remote control systems, and electric locks.

Expansion Projects Involving Solar Energy

An example of an expansion project in which solar energy is being incorporated into a rail system can be found in Geneva. In Geneva, the project started by injecting 600 volts DC generated by solar power directly into the tram and trolleybus electricity network or grid. This aspect of the project commenced in 1993.

At the end of 2017, a fully solar powered train was launched in Australia, in New South Wales. The Australian train utilizes onboard solar panels together with onboard rechargeable batteries. There are limitations to this project at this time. The train is capable of carrying 100 passengers less than a couple of miles.

In London, the Renewable Traction Power project was announced fairly recently. This project is designed to investigate the use of track-side solar panels as a means to power trains.

In India, an announcement was made of a new goal to utilized onboard solar panels to operate air conditioning systems in railcars. The objective of this utilization of solar power is to reduce the use of diesel fuel by 24,000 gallons per train annually. The objective is to additionally reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 239 tons each year as well.

As has been the case with different alternative energy options, the United States has been lagging behind what is occurring in other countries. With that said, in the past decade, there has been an uptick in research and the utilization of alternative energy resources in the United States, both in the public and private sectors.


Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., a leading steel tubing suppliers of carbon, alloy and stainless steel pipe, tubes, fittings and flanges.


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