Researchers at Imperial College are trying to find out
Researchers at Imperial College’s Energy Futures Lab are working on the ‘Renewable Traction Power project’, a world-first attempt to connect solar panels directly to the lines which provide electricity to trains. This way, the electricity grid will be bypassed, so that the panels can provide power precisely when –and where- it is needed most (the railway has high on-site daytime energy use).
The attempt follows the new trend in the UK’s solar energy industry to find ways to generate power directly for consumption, rather than channeling it through the grid. And that’s because, among other reasons, in several rural areas it is much easier to efficiently deploy new alternative energy generators than to connect to the often remote grid. “Many railway lines run through areas with great potential for solar power but where existing electricity networks are hard to access,” explains Professor Tim Green, Director of Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London. “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.”
The engineers will first try to adjust the “third rail systems”, which supply electricity to the locomotive through a power line running close to the ground. They have to establish how to match the direct current (DC) power of solar panels to the DC railway lines, and the good news is that they both operate at a similar voltage.
The idea of direct connection of solar to railways is really promising as Network Rail is by far the largest electricity consumer in the UK, and it can also have wider potential applications (city metros etc). If the feasibility study proves successful, the developers will proceed to the installation of 1-2MW of trackside solar in order for the concept to be tested in real-world conditions.
Source: The Guardian