Solar panels could be installed in the spaces between railway tracks in world first

Revolutionizing Railway Energy: Solar Panels on Tracks

Solar panels have been a vital tool in the fight against climate change, and now they are being deployed in innovative ways. Swiss start-up Sun-Ways has come up with a patented system to install removable solar panels on railway tracks, potentially producing one Terawatt-hour (TWh) of solar energy per year, equivalent to around 2% of Switzerland’s total energy consumption. If successful, the system could be extended to railway tracks all over the world, potentially generating significant amounts of clean energy.

In this article, we will explore how Sun-Ways’ system works, the benefits it offers, and the challenges it faces.

How Are Solar Panels Added to Tracks?

Sun-Ways has developed a mechanical system to install removable solar panels on railway tracks. A train developed by Swiss track maintenance company Scheuchzer travels along the rails, laying photovoltaic panels as it goes. The specially designed train uses a piston mechanism to unfurl the one-meter-wide panels, pre-assembled at a Swiss factory.

What Makes Sun-Ways’ System Unique?

Sun-Ways’ system is the first to patent a removable system, with the help of EPFL, the Swiss federal technology institute in Lausanne. This innovation is crucial since railway tracks need to be cleared from time to time for essential maintenance work.

How Much Energy Could Solar Panels on Railway Lines Produce?

Sun-Ways estimates that the national rail network could produce one TWh of solar energy per year, equivalent to around 2% of Switzerland’s total energy consumption. In theory, the panels could be rolled out across the entirety of Switzerland’s 5,317 kilometer-long railway network, covering an area of around 760 football fields.

The company has big ambitions and wants to extend its system into Germany, Austria, and Italy. “There are over a million kilometers of railway lines in the world,” co-founder Baptiste Danichert tells SWI Swissinfo. “We believe that 50% of the world’s railways could be equipped with our system.”

What Are the Benefits of Solar Panels on Railway Tracks?

The benefits of solar panels on railway tracks are numerous. First, they are an efficient way to produce clean energy, reducing the carbon footprint of the railway network. Second, they make use of otherwise unused spaces, creating new opportunities for solar power generation. Third, they offer cost savings by reducing the need for electricity from the grid.

What Challenges Does Sun-Ways Face?

Sun-Ways faces several challenges as it seeks to roll out its system on a large scale. The International Union of Railways has expressed concern that the panels could suffer micro-cracks, lead to a higher risk of fires in green areas, and even distract train drivers with reflections. Sun-Ways says its panels are more resistant than conventional ones and could have an anti-reflection filter to keep out of train drivers’ eyes.

Built-in sensors also ensure that the panels work correctly, while brushes attached to the end of trains could remove dirt from the surface of the panels. The company is also working on a system to melt frozen precipitation, which could render the panels useless during winter months.

Conclusion

Sun-Ways’ system to install solar panels on railway tracks is an innovative and exciting development in the fight against climate change. While the company faces challenges, the potential benefits of the system are enormous. If successful, the system could be extended to railway tracks worldwide, generating significant amounts of clean energy and reducing the carbon footprint of the railway network.