Just outside London, a test is underway to see if it’s possible to power commuter trains by solar power.
One of the biggest benefits would be efficiency, as a conventional solar supply pumps into the National Grid, which converts the solar array’s DC electricity into its AC requirements. When the National Grid supplies it to the railways to power their trains, it’s turned back into DC supply — and that conversion process loses around 4-5% of the electricity originally generated.
Cut the losses by pumping DC solar power directly into DC absorbing railways and you lower the cost of providing the same amount of energy – making solar power more affordable. The really big problem is supply and demand rarely align with each other.
Not just that solar power is variable thanks to the vagaries of the weather, as it’s often far more stable than you might expect from the British climate, but that the demand from the railways varies wildly depending on how often trains pass through the area being supplied by the solar panels.
The whole project actually started down on the London-Brighton railway, in the town of Balcombe, where an opportunity to install a large solar array hit an expensive problem. It could have generated more power than the local town would need, but the National Grid in the area was already ‘full’ and couldn’t take any more supply without an expensive upgrade.