The 'world's first' solar-powered rail line is up and running in the UK

Polycount

Posts: 2,514   +549
Staff member

Public transportation systems throughout the world are starting to make the jump from traditional fossil fuel engines to electric alternatives. China's Shenzhen city has already converted its entire public bus fleet to EVs, and now, a UK train line is going the same route.

According to a new report from The Guardian, a rail line near Aldershot in Hampshire, England is now powered entirely by the sun, courtesy of a nearby solar farm. The farm contains 100 solar panels, which will provide power to the rail itself as well as its "signalling and lights." Apparently, this is the first time ever that a train rail has been completely powered by a solar farm.

To be clear, this is still a relatively small installation. 100 solar panels may sound like a lot, but when you consider how much power the UK's entire train system needs, it's a mere drop in the bucket. Regardless, this is a pretty big achievement for the UK, and it could pave the way for similar solar-powered rail lines to be installed throughout the country and perhaps even overseas if the idea catches on.

Indeed, it sounds like the former is the long-term plan for the organization behind this installation, Riding Sunbeams. By 2020, The Guardian says Riding Sunbeams hopes to build and connect the "world's first-ever full-scale community-and-commuter-owned solar farm" to UK railways -- that's quite an ambitious project, and we look forward to seeing whether or not the group can pull it off.

Image courtesy: The Guardian, Wikipedia

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ferrellsl

Posts: 42   +41
That's laughable in light of all the petroleum that was used to create the steel rails, steel cars, wire and other infrastructure required to run a rail line....not to mention how this will even function in a nation where there are more rainy, overcast days than sunny ones. Sounds more like a politically driven boon-doggle meant to get some tree-hugging politician some free press and election points while enriching himself since he owns an interest in a solar power firm. If it's so eco-friendly, why have the left the traditional electrical lines intact? Oh, that's right, it also gets dark in the UK at night.
 

Bluescreendeath

Posts: 234   +322
This is UK, it is always cloudy and rainy there. This wouldn't have been built without accounting for its year-round miserable weather.
I'd imagine so. I'm curious to know if they're using some alternative form of energy during these miserable weather days as a backup since battery storage isn't practical yet from what I understand.

Also, UK and Ireland do not have trains operating at night time.
Do people not use the subway/trains at night? What do they do at night then - only use buses and cars?
 

neeyik

Posts: 1,294   +1,356
Staff member
The trains aren't powered by the solar panels - only the signalling and lights on the track are; it's a 30kW installation!

Edit: The plan is to scale the project up, if it's successful, to provide enough juice to drive the traction engines on the trains.

Edit 2: This article has a better insight on the project than the Guardian article does:

https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2019/08/14/testing-a-solar-powered-railway/
 
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Adi6293

Posts: 563   +666
I live in Scotland and honesty I dont understand what they are thinking, we get rain 10 months a year in here England its a bit better but can't be by much.....
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,384   +5,812
Far too many people approach solar power as an "all or nothing" thing but just making modest additions over time can lead to some remarkable savings in dollars and power. For instance, three years ago I created and added a solar converter to my hot water tank. it's not much more than a 3'x3' shallow box with 1/2" copper tubing running back and forth like a radiator and the entire thing sprayed in "jet black". Many cloudy days and a few very dark and rainy ones. It has a 100-gallon supplemental tank in line so I have a total of 150 gallons. Shortly after I installed it and started recirculating the water through my hot water tank (naturally, no recirculating pump needed) I put an electrical disconnect on the electric feed to the hot water tank and have yet to turn it back on.
Within a week I had to add a pressure relief valve because on the first full sun day I was literally making steam. The total cost to make was about $500 which I made back the first year. Certainly not a whole-house solution, but a nice first step. If the majority of the country would do this the overall savings in dollars and megawatts would be substantial.
 
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Bluescreendeath

Posts: 234   +322
The trains aren't powered by the solar panels - only the signalling and lights on the track are; it's a 30kW installation!

Edit: The plan is to scale the project up, if it's successful, to provide enough juice to drive the traction engines on the trains.

Edit 2: This article has a better insight on the project than the Guardian article does:

https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2019/08/14/testing-a-solar-powered-railway/
That makes more sense.

The article makes it seem like the trains themselves are being run on solar panels:
"Apparently, this is the first time ever that a train rail has been completely powered by a solar farm."
 

VitalyT

Posts: 5,044   +3,967
TechSpot Elite
Do people not use the subway/trains at night? What do they do at night then - only use buses and cars?
Yes, buses and cars. Trains are unpopular during evening times, as they get filled with drunks, druggies and all kinds of scumbags. Bringing in night routes would require a whole new police force to counter that, which neither UK no Ireland deem necessary as of yet. So there it stays, day-time operation only.
 
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Nero7

Posts: 498   +234
Here's a funny idea:

How about the train gets its electricity from the cable above it and the power needed for that is generated by a nuclear plant?

Clean, safe, plentiful energy.
 

Puiu

Posts: 4,018   +2,531
That's laughable in light of all the petroleum that was used to create the steel rails, steel cars, wire and other infrastructure required to run a rail line....not to mention how this will even function in a nation where there are more rainy, overcast days than sunny ones. Sounds more like a politically driven boon-doggle meant to get some tree-hugging politician some free press and election points while enriching himself since he owns an interest in a solar power firm. If it's so eco-friendly, why have the left the traditional electrical lines intact? Oh, that's right, it also gets dark in the UK at night.
So we should just stop using solar and other non-petroleum/coal based power sources right? Because other things are made from these things right? Hell, why are we even eating real food, let's just drink and eat petrol and plastic, we use them in out food making process and wrappings right?

This type of thinking is very dangerous and doesn't reflect reality or take into account something very simple: time.

You use X quantity of petroleum based materials to create something because you think that in the long run it will lower petroleum usage. You will save every year Y quantity which eventually equal X and then become bigger than X.

It's the same principle as with electric cars. You use it in the production of the car so that in the long run you will stop using petrol based fuel.
 

HyPeroxya

Posts: 111   +16
Not sure whether you're for it or agin it? Dont do anything... or Put sails on the train and PV panels on all available surfaces. Its the ships we have to worry about , burning the MOST polluting Oil +coal. they should be built to have computer controlled sails and Battery powered engines. Ban Bunker fuel!
 

netman

Posts: 558   +193
This is another joke like the Apple Card... How many stations this train covers, one half?!
 

Knot Schure

Posts: 293   +126
Here's a funny idea:

How about the train gets its electricity from the cable above it and the power needed for that is generated by a nuclear plant?

Clean, safe, plentiful energy.
'Safe', depends on who is handling said fissile material.

If you live in Britain, etc, sure, Moscow, etc, another story...
 
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wiyosaya

Posts: 5,363   +3,444
Far too many people approach solar power as an "all or nothing" thing but just making modest additions over time can lead to some remarkable savings in dollars and power. For instance, three years ago I created and added a solar converter to my hot water tank. it's not much more than a 3'x3' shallow box with 1/2" copper tubing running back and forth like a radiator and the entire thing sprayed in "jet black". Many cloudy days and a few very dark and rainy ones. It has a 100-gallon supplemental tank in line so I have a total of 150 gallons. Shortly after I installed it and started recirculating the water through my hot water tank (naturally, no recirculating pump needed) I put an electrical disconnect on the electric feed to the hot water tank and have yet to turn it back on.
Within a week I had to add a pressure relief valve because on the first full sun day I was literally making steam. The total cost to make was about $500 which I made back the first year. Certainly not a whole-house solution, but a nice first step. If the majority of the country would do this the overall savings in dollars and megawatts would be substantial.
(y) (Y) It's amazing what 1kW /m^2 can do. Even on the worst of cloudy days, there is something like an average of 300W/m^2 of solar power to be had.

There's is a significant amount of research that is being done on solar electric. Some day, it will be more efficient. However, PV is approaching the cost of traditional electric. This is a small installation, for sure, however, it also serves as proof of concept.
 

Nero7

Posts: 498   +234
Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island. And don't forget this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste Clean, safe, plentiful energy for sure!
If it wasn't safe and clean then GB and FR and RUS and USA among others wouldn't be building new ones don't you think?

Germany is the only country acting crazy and thats solely due to making them dependant on French nuclear power and the target of becoming an agrarian state according to Morgenthau.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 5,363   +3,444
Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island. And don't forget this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste Clean, safe, plentiful energy for sure!
If it wasn't safe and clean then GB and FR and RUS and USA among others wouldn't be building new ones don't you think?

Germany is the only country acting crazy and thats solely due to making them dependant on French nuclear power and the target of becoming an agrarian state according to Morgenthau.
In the US, only one of several planned new reactors was completed and is operating - that at an existing facility. One was outright cancelled amid safety concerns, and other is experiencing construction delays. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_the_United_States

Just because X does not necessarily mean Y. Translated, just because countries are building them, does not mean that they are safe, nor that an accident will not happen.

And there is still the problem of nuclear waste - the worst of which will be the problem of generations to come.

Sorry. Not buying the "clean nuclear" argument. It's patently false especially when generations to come will have to deal with the nuclear waste the world is making today.
 

Nero7

Posts: 498   +234
Well my vision is that all the nuclear waste from countries in europe can just be dumped in a central place... Germany for example xD

Once we build a giant catapult we can launch it into the sun. xD
 

Knot Schure

Posts: 293   +126
Well my vision is that all the nuclear waste from countries in europe can just be dumped in a central place... Germany for example xD

Once we build a giant catapult we can launch it into the sun. xD
On Merkel's doorstep sounds fine to me...
 
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