Rail operator Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has opened what it believes is the world’s first solar power plant designed specifically for pairing with the electric railway system. The new system adds a photovoltaic electricity generation farm directly into the rail system, directly powering the trains that run along the Ostbahn (Eastern Railway).
The system is being run as a pilot that seeks to determine if adding renewable generation directly to the rail lines is a feasible way to directly power or offset the energy used by the trains themselves.
The pilot installation is comprised of 7,000 cubic meters of solar panels with a generating capacity of 1,100 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. That’s the same amount of energy used by 200 trips from Vienna to Salzburg, eliminating 400 tonnes of CO2 emissions, not to mention the transmission savings of producing the power exactly where it’s needed.
The addition of solar generation directly to the power lines used by the trains was made possible by the invention of a new inverter that allows the solar power to be directly injected into the train’s power lines. With this setup, the solar system can run in parallel to the track and be used much closer to the point of generation. As a special bonus, the system is all kinds of connected and can analyze the performance of the system over time.
The concept of pairing on-site and distributed renewable electricity generation was the foundation for the Backbone Campaign’s Solutionary Rail book. It proposes that all rail systems be converted to electric because it’s more cost effective, reliable and efficient.
Electric rail systems require that power lines be run and Solutionary Rail believes those lines should be built with higher capacity than needed as a means of stringing up a new network of regional transmission lines. These power lines will serve as the arteries of the electrical system, connecting major metro areas and the small cities along the way and perhaps most importantly, allowing distributed renewable resources to feed into that network and be fed to those very same major metro areas.