Initiatives by rail companies worldwide - from Singapore, India to Belgium - are showing that rail travel is not only the most efficient in terms of passenger miles, but is also one of the most sustainable transport options around. By Gaia Discovery staff.
Singapore, June 14 2019. The installation of a pilot 1MW solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the rooftop of a major rail depot building in Singapore has delivered the metro system operator, SMRT, a saving of over 500 tonnes of CO2 a year. SMRT says the new system can generate power potentially equal to the energy consumption of over 250 households, and that it is looking to extend the system’s capacity up in coming years. It noted that the initiative is an important step contributing towards a positive environmental impact, and would hopefully encourage other Singapore transport companies to increase their sustainability efforts.
“The installation of a solar photovoltaic system at Bishan Depot is SMRT’s first application of solar technology in our facilities,”said Ng Bor Kiat, SMRT SVP Systems and Technology. “We are optimistic about expanding the system to generate up to 5MW, maximising solar potential.”
High Speed Solar
And in Belgium, the flag has dropped on one of Belgium’s most ambitious large-scale solar installations – on the roof of a new rail tunnel. The tunnel, built on the high speed line between Paris and Amsterdam, is more than 3km long as it passes through an old-growth forest. This has given the Belgian rail company, SNCB, the perfect base for some 16,000 PV solar panels that together produce over 3MW; enough power to supply all the trains running across Belgium on a single day.
The $22.9 million project covers 50,000 m2, about the same as eight football pitches. The panels will provide enough electricity to power 4,000 trains a year as they pass through the tunnel and tap directly into the panel output as they do so.
"For train operators, this is the perfect way to cut carbon footprints because it uses spaces that have no other economic value,” said a spokesperson for Enfinity, the company behind the installation. The company also noted that the use of rail facilities to support PV panels comes with the bonus of low community objections and low energy losses and power transport costs too. “Plus this kind of project can be completed rapidly because it doesn’t attract the objections that wind power does," they added. As well as the localised power generated, the panels are expected to cut CO2 emissions by 47.3 million kg over the next 20 years.
In India the main rail operator, Indian Railways has already piloted a plan to generate 1000MW of solar energy by 2020. Its ambitious plans potentially make it the country’s largest harvester of rooftop solar power, with a target of 10% of its total energy requirements through renewable power over the next two years. The ultimate goal is to see some 25% of its total energy consumption provided by renewables by 2025.
The plan, already piloted in several states, calls for the generation 500MW of power directly on rolling stock through the use of carriage and wagon-based rooftop solar panels, with the remaining capacity coming from, land-mounted solar farms on its existing landholdings. Some 400 stations have already been fitted with solar panel installations, with a target of 7,000 in coming years, said Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The use of solar panels on trains will decrease the energy needed by rolling stock, specifically by powering aircon, fans and lighting systems. Around 300 trains already have similar systems in place and additionally, the corporation plans to use underutilised land spaces for wind farms to potentially produce over 300MW of power.
The end objective, said Piyush Goyal, Indian Railways and Coal Minister, is to: “transform Indian Railways into a world class, safe, and modern transporter [that] also leads the world with 100% electrification.”
Ashwani Lohani, Indian Railways chairman noted that although rail is already recognised as one of the most efficient modes of transportation, the corporation was working to shift its energy mix toward greener sources.
“We need to continue to innovate to make railway cost effective, sustainable as well as the preferred carrier,” he added. “Green initiatives and the adoption of viable sources of energy continue to be our priority.”