This “rolling sheet” of solar panels may not sound like much, but it could help spark a solar energy revolution in the rail industry.
The designers of the solar locomotive of the future aimed to break a Guinness world record for speed, and that is more than just a simple maneuver to attract attention. Demonstrating the functionality of photovoltaic panels on railcars could help lay the groundwork for solar power to displace diesel from the rail business. The official results are not yet known, but solar energy is beginning to make its way into a field dominated by fossil fuels.
The solar train of the future hits the tracks.
When people say “solar train”, they usually mean a train powered by batteries and charged with electricity from a solar farm. In other words, solar energy is there, but not on the train.
Placing solar panels on the roof of the train is something else. A retro solar train started ferrying passengers on a six-kilometre round-trip route in Byron, Australia, in 2017, but that’s the main scope of activity so far, at least when it comes to powering entire trains with energy. solar.
It’s possible that Byron’s train could go faster and farther with more solar panels, but integrating the roof panels into the train’s 1940s-era style was a key consideration limiting its ability to absorb solar energy. sun.
The team behind the record-breaking solar train has no such limitations. Aesthetics have been abandoned in favor of functionality, and solar panels are pretty much all there is to the Solar Train in its current 13-meter-long version. Apart from a small space for the driver and a couple of passengers, the entire flat surface of the car is occupied by solar panels.
The goal for 2022 is to design a 24-meter version that can reach a top speed of 105 km/h on solar power alone.
This solar train started as a home project in 2016.
Meanwhile, solar power is already starting to establish itself as a workhorse in the rail industry. An interesting example is that of the Herzog company, which proposes a solar energy system to remotely unload ballast wagons, which are freight cars that can be unloaded by opening a hatch at the bottom.
In India, it has been deploying solar panels on trains to power fans and other equipment. Although it does not completely replace diesel, the addition of solar energy can make a significant difference.
In India, it is estimated that installing photovoltaic solar panels on a single train saves 5,547 gallons of diesel per year, a savings equivalent to almost $20,000. These panels do not yet power the locomotive, but merely power its fans, lights and comfort systems, highlighting the huge opportunity to further reduce operating costs by switching to renewable energy.
Electrified railways have already made diesel fuel obsolete on many commuter lines, but there are still plenty of other opportunities for solar power to make its way onto the world’s railways.