Image: 10:10

A solar-powered railway – billed as the first of its kind – has been switched on in Aldershot, supplying the network's signalling and lights with electricity.

The Riding Sunbeams ‘First Light’ demonstrator project bypasses the grid by connecting the solar directly to the railway and is set to pave the way for the world’s first ever solar powered trains, Riding Sunbeams said.

The 30kW solar test unit, consisting of around 100 solar panels, was today (22 August) connected to an ancillary transformer on the railway’s traction system.

The project is being run by climate change charity 10:10 Climate Action in collaboration with Community Energy South and Network Rail, alongside a consortium of engineering and renewable energy consultants and academics.

Electricity demand data from six community solar sites is being collected, with the intention of discovering how larger solar arrays could power trains.

These learnings would then be applied to the creation of “the world’s first ever full-scale” solar farm connected to UK railways, owned by communities and commuters, which Riding Sunbeams hopes to have completed by the end of 2020.

The ‘First Light’ project is funded by the Department for Transport through the First of a Kind Round 2 competition, delivered by Innovate UK.

It spawned from a 2017 study by 10:10 and Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab, which found that solar connected directly to rail, tube and tram networks could supply electricity at a lower cost than prices available on the grid and could meet a “significant share” of their electricity needs.

Leo Murray, director of Riding Sunbeams, said: “Matchmaking the UK’s biggest electricity user, the railways, with the nation’s favourite energy source, solar power, looks like the start of the perfect relationship.

“Helping to get the railways off fossil fuels in this way will cut running costs and benefit local communities at the same time as helping to tackle the climate crisis.”