Swiss startup wants to install solar panels between train tracks – pv magazine International

Vaud-based company Sun-Ways has developed a solution to deploy removable solar power plants between railroad tracks using a special train. Installing the modules would only take a few hours and they could be temporarily removed for track maintenance. In Switzerland, the Swiss rail network could produce 1 TWh of solar electricity per year.

Europe has no less than 260,000 kilometers of railways. To take advantage of this space, the Swiss start-up Sun-Ways, based in Ecublens, has been working since 2021 on a solution for installing removable solar power plants between railway tracks. According to her, the space between the tracks is in fact wide enough to place photovoltaic panels of standard size, without impeding the movement of the trains, since the sleepers have no other function than to guarantee a regular spacing between the tracks.

For the installation of the modules, the young company has privately patented a system that allows the automatic installation of solar panels thanks to a special train. The modules are pre-assembled in a chain at the factory and loaded onto a special train that takes care of unrolling them, like a rug on the floor. In fact, installing a kilometer-long solar plant would take just a few hours and require very little handling by installers. The photovoltaic installation can also be removed at any time thanks to this same train, for example to allow maintenance work on the tracks.

A special train unrolls a chain of photovoltaic panels.

Image: Sun Ways

Around ten companies in Switzerland are currently taking part in carrying out the pilot project, which should start in May 2023. According to Sun-Ways, the expected investment volume is around 400,000 Swiss francs (398,000 euros), enough to equip a first section of 100 meters with 50 solar modules. This is to be built on a rail section of Transports Publics Neuchâtelois SA (transN) in Neuchatel. The mechanical design was carried out in collaboration with the research institute EPFL and Innosuisse. The CSEM research institute must then carry out the analyzes in the first test section to assess the resistance of the solar modules in this new environment. In addition to the aforementioned companies, Scheuchzer, Romande Energie, Viteos, DG-Rail, RM Voie Ferrée, Meccad and GESTE Engineering are also participating in this pilot project.

Feeding produced solar electricity into the grid is a challenge, as explained by a Sun-Ways spokesperson interviewed by pv-magazine. “For the pilot project, we will feed the electricity directly into the low voltage network of the transN railway company using a 20 kW inverter,” he explained. In the near future, the company intends to be able to inject electricity directly into the catenaries used to drive trains or into the public electricity grid, to supply homes and businesses. “We know that there are engineering development projects trying to build an efficient transformer that can do this. With this solution, there would be no problem with the length of the cable, as the feed would be done directly on the railway line”, continues the spokesman for Sun Ways. However, there are still many technical and regulatory challenges to be resolved.

The electricity production potential, in Switzerland alone, would be 1 TWh of electricity generated by solar energy per year.

Image: Sun Ways

If the solution works, Sun-Ways initially expects annual production of about 2 GWh of solar electricity per year, with an electricity production cost of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. Eventually, in Switzerland alone, the production potential would be 1 TWh of solar electricity per year, or 30% of the consumption of all public transport companies in the country.

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