World’s first solar panel 'carpet' on railway tracks may generate electricity
European startup Sun-Ways has devised a mechanical device to deploy removable solar panels along railway tracks.
This innovation could be implemented on half of the railway lines across the globe, according to the Swizerland-based energy startup.
The area between railroad lines is broad enough to accommodate standard-sized solar panels without impeding train passage, claims co-founder Sun-Ways, Baptiste Danichert.
"This way, we [Switzerland] could produce some of the electricity we need," said Danichert.
Large installations are difficult to construct due to a lack of available space. However, "solar panels between rails, on the other hand, have no visual or environmental impact," he added.
What is the process?
Sun-Ways employs factory-preassembled solar panels from Switzerland. The one-meter-wide panels are simply positioned between train lines and fastened to the rails using a piston mechanism.
A train created by Swiss track upkeep company Scheuchzer performs installation mechanically.
The train spreads the photovoltaic panels out along the rail track "like an unrolling carpet" as it travels, according to Sun-Ways.
Solar panel installation along railroad tracks is not a novel concept. Photovoltaic components mounted on railroad sleepers are being tested by two additional businesses, Italy's Greenrail, and England's Bankset Energy.
However, in partnership with EPFL, the Swiss Federal Technology Institute in Lausanne, Sun-Ways is the first to have patented a removable system.
Danichert declares, "that is the innovation," according to him, the ability to remove the panels is necessary in order to perform maintenance tasks like rail grinding. Trains continue to travel along the lines without incident, thanks to rail grinding.
The generated electricity would be sent into the power grid and used to power residences.
On the other hand, using energy for rail operations is more difficult and would require specialized technology, according to Danichert.
The company's experimental endeavor still has a lot to prove. The International Union of Railways is worried that the panels might develop microcracks, increase the risk of forest fires, or even cause train drivers to become distracted by reflections.
In order to prevent reflections from glaring into train drivers' eyes, Sun-Ways claims that their panels are more durable than conventional ones.
'50 percent of world's railways' could use the system
The Swiss rail network has a total length of 5,317 kilometers, and theoretically, all of it could be covered with solar panels. This would cover an area roughly equal to 760 football fields, omitting tunnels and locations with limited sunlight.
The country's rail system could generate 1 Terawatt-hour (TWh) of solar energy annually, or around 2 percent of Switzerland's total electricity needs, according to Sun-Ways.
The startup's objectives extend beyond the Alpine region. Sun-Ways intends to broaden its reach in the upcoming years into other regions of Europe, including the close-by nations of Germany, Austria, and Italy, as well as the United States and Asia.
"There are over a million kilometers of railway lines in the world," said Danichert. "We believe that 50 percent of the world's railways could be equipped with our system."
The pilot project will focus on Western Switzerland's public rail system close to the Buttes train station. It will cost around CHF400,000 ($437,240), according to swissinfo.ch online news that first broke the story.
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