Pioneering Basingstoke companies have spearheaded a world-leading project – the connection of solar panels directly into electrified rail routes to power trains.
Basingstoke Energy Co-operative took a leading role in the design and implementation of the system known as Riding Sunbeams. Network Rail engineers, also based in Basingstoke, led the way in developing the technology and providing the trial site in Aldershot.
It is also a key project identified in the South2East Energy Strategy which aims to accelerate the clean growth economy of the South East. This strategy was drawn up by Enterprise M3, in partnership with Siemens and two neighbouring LEPs.
Enterprise M3 Chair, Dave Axam, said: “It is incredibly exciting that this global-first, trailblazing use of clean technology has been successfully applied in the Enterprise M3 region, through a public-private partnership which links our supremely-innovative businesses and organisations.
“Clean growth is at the front and centre of our way forward, as both our Strategic Economic Plan and emerging Local Industrial Strategy demonstrate. Our excellent and ambitious strategies, combined with a focus on delivery through impressive partnership working, positions the EM3 area as a formidable force for change.”
Until now, direct supply of solar power to rail traction systems had never been done. That is until a partnership of 10:10, Community Energy South, Network Rail and Basingstoke Energy Co-operative (Bes Co-op) got together to realise that dream.
The UK rail network is the country’s largest single user of electricity. It costs Network Rail hundreds of millions each year and generates over 3,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.
The dream of directly connecting the railways to renewable energy took root just over 3 years ago when, with UK Government funding, the climate change charity, 10:10, teamed up with Imperial College to sketch out some designs for the technology required.
The dream moved closer to reality 18 months ago when Bes Co-op was asked to look at the technical and financial feasibility of building three large scale (2MW plus) solar farms across Hampshire and Sussex. Bes Co-op worked with 10:10, Network Rail (NR) and Ricardo to refine and develop the technical specifications of the technology required.
We worked in close co-operation with Network Rail engineers to assess and shortlist a number of innovative approaches to connecting solar farms to Network Rail’s power network. It was an amazing 12 months with us going a steep learning curve on railway power engineering and NR going up an equally steep curve understanding solar photovoltaics. After a few false starts and failed ideas, together we came through with five brand new and incredibly innovative options for connecting railways to solar farms.
It was a tremendously challenging period where we needed to ensure safe and affordable technology could be deployed. NR wants clean and affordable sources for its energy. Using trackside solar is a perfect solution. We have the demand, we have the land and we have the network. Community owned renewable energy that Riding Sunbeams can provide is an ideal solution for us.
This has huge potential - from metros, trams and railways in the UK and around the world. What we have done, with Basingstoke Energy Co-op, and our partners, is taken the dream and made it happen. The trial at Aldershot is the first time a train in the UK has been directly powered from solar panels. This is only a trial, but it is about demonstrating that this technology can work. It is a small start but a vital one.
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