Once installed, the SolaRailway will provide for decades of renewable energy. Passengers will be able to travel without carbon dioxide emissions, making rail transport just as clean as biking to your destination, only more convenient for long distances.
The frame fixing the solar panel to the rail is designed for durability. Aluminum alloys are used for strength, and high-quality rubber is used to dampen the vibrations of the rail. Where regular solar panels provide one level of shock damping, the SolaRailway offers 5.
In the Netherlands, the ROI is estimated at 15 years using 2013 energy prices. This allows the railway companies to step away from the dependance of utilities and the price fluctuations of electricity.
There are more than 7000 km of railway tracks in The Netherlands. If 70% of those would be covered by SolaRailway modules, the total energy produced could power all trains throughout the year.
However, on sunny days, the energy produced will surpass the energy needed, and the excess can be sold to power nearby habitations and businesses.
And a small country like The Netherlands would have the largest solar power plant in the world with a capacity of about 1MWh/year, or about 1% of the country's yearly usage.
Installation and repair need to be as efficient as possible to avoid lengthy closures of railway tracks. Thanks to a modular system, unscrewing four security nuts is enough to get access to all vital components. Once the SolaRailway is unlocked, the solar panel can be slid out and replaced without any screws, glue or fastening mechanisms.
Installing the SolaRailway can be done in steps, by first installing the bottom frame, then doing the wiring, and finally placing the top frame which contains the solar panel.
By creating a smartphone app, railway companies can show in real time how much solar energy the trains are using. People can watch in real time how much energy is produced, where it's generated, and how many trains are currently being powered by the sun using the solar map.
Travelers using the OV-chipcard get a solar discount when energy is produced on the segment they are traveling on. Up to 10% discount will be awarded to passengers on trains that are entirely powered by the SolaRailway. This allows the users to engage with the system and reap benefits too.
Small-scale models are a great way to evaluate the feasibility of a concept. This model is made out of a round LEGO track, with 30 solar panels placed in between the rails. They are backed up by a battery representing the power grid, and kicks in when there is not enough power coming from the solar cells.
The solar/battery power ratio is monitored using an Arduino, and sent to the laptop. In cloudy but bright conditions the SolaRailway model can provide between 75 and 100% of the energy needed by the LEGO train.