Thursday, June 9, 2011

The ‘Solar Tunnel’: a greener future for our railways?

Henry Gass
8th June, 2011

The opening of Belgium’s ‘Solar Tunnel’ railway project has raised questions about the use of solar for UK transport projects, says Henry Gass

Railway infrastructure is being used to generate green energy for the first time in Europe with the inauguration of the ‘Solar Tunnel’ in Belgium. 3.4 kilometres of tunnel roof near Antwerp, part of the high-speed line connecting Paris and Amsterdam, has been covered with 16,000 solar PV panels, an area of roughly 50,000m2 – equivalent to eight football pitches.

The panels will generate an estimated 3.3 MWh of electricity a year, equivalent to the average annual electricity consumption of nearly 1,000 homes, and will decrease CO2 emissions by 2,400 tonnes per year. The electricity will be used to power the railway infrastructure (signalling, lighting, heating of railway stations etc) and trains using the Belgian rail network. 4,000 trains per year – equivalent to one full day of rail traffic – will be able to run entirely on solar energy. Belgium-based renewable energy company Enfinity financed, developed and built the Solar Tunnel project, at a cost, says Bart van Renterghem, head of Enfinity UK, of around £14 million.

‘Solar PV has one big advantage compared to other renewable energy technologies,’ says van Renterghem. ‘This kind of technology is really deliverable. We had a tunnel, the rooftop had no economic use at all. We installed solar PV, it’s not disturbing anyone, but you are making use of assets that weren’t productive before, using technology which does not create any sound, which has almost no visual impact, deliverable on a short time frame.’

According to van Renterghem, discussions around the Solar Tunnel project began at the start of 2010, and the project was finalised by the end of the year. ‘I don’t know any renewable energy technology where you can start developing and realising the project and getting it operational within one year,’ says van Renterghem. The 3.3 MWh figure was calculated based on the forecast of the average sunshine in north Belgium. Many environmentalists, including George Monbiot, have argued that solar power is an impractical technology for the UK and northern Europe given the relative lack of sunshine the region receives. However, van Renterghem argues that projects like the Solar Tunnel are more sustainable than importing solar energy from sunnier regions. ‘Solar PV, it’s about de-central electricity generation. So they generate electricity on the spot where you’re going to consume it. It doesn’t make sense to build a big solar installation in the south of Italy and then transport green energy to the north of Germany to consume it over there.’


amol sonar said...

this is the very good project related to solar energy and alternative energy sources.going one step ahead of them we should also have to devlop this project under indian railways we have solar energy available in lots of amount in India as compared to europien we have to learn from them and their research level besides the atmospherical conditions.
as i am an engineering student i would also like to work on projects like this besides placements and all.

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