The Paris-to-Amsterdam train route has become the greenest stretch of high-speed rail link in Europe, thanks to a 3.4-kilometer tunnel that has been fitted with solar panels.
The tunnel was originally built to protect trains from falling trees as they pass through an ancient forest located just outside Antwerp, Belgium. With 16,000 solar panels now lining its roof, the tunnel will generate power for some 4,000 suburban and high-speed trains, as well as lighting and heating installments in the region. It will also provide sufficient energy to power Antwerp Central Station.
The €15.7 million solar tunnel will produce 3,300 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, which would be enough to power over 900 households in Belgium. It will reduce the country’s carbon emissions by an estimated 2,400 tons per year.
The panels, manufactured by Chinese company JinkoSolar, cover some 50,000 square meters, roughly equivalent to eight soccer pitches. Belgium’s national rail company Infrabel announced that the inaugural run through the tunnel was a success.
Renewable energy experts will be keenly observing the tunnel as it is the first solar installation to provide power directly to trains. Results from the new stretch of green rail are expected to play a role in many similar projects throughout the world.
Rail is already considered one of the most environmentally friendly means of travel, and initiatives such as this provide rail companies with an ideal solution to reduce their carbon footprint even further.
“Train operators can use spaces that have no other economic value, and the projects can be delivered within a year because they don’t attract protests that wind power does,” said Bart Van Renterghem, UK regional head and head of Wind Energy at Enfinity, the Belgian renewable energy company that installed the solar panels.
Enfinity had been ready to push forward with a number of ventures with rail operators and water companies in the London area before the UK government slashed subsidies for large-scale solar projects, fearing speculators would take advantage of the £360 million in incentives it initially put on offer.
The UK government has said that solar-panel production costs are too high, but Van Renterghem argues that major investment from Germany, France and Belgium has cut manufacturing costs by as much as half over the past three years.
The Renewable Energy Association & Solar Trade Association called the subsidies cut a “horrendous strategic mistake.”
Key Statistics – Photovoltaic in Europe (source: European Photovoltaic Industry Association)
- In 2010, more than 13 GW of photovoltaic (PV) production capacity was added in the EU, with the rest of the world adding almost 4 GW.
- France brought its PV capacity to more than 700 MW, while Spain topped 370 MW.
- Belgium added 420 MW of PV capacity in 2010, bringing its total to 600 MW.
- With 7.4 GW in 2010, Germany was the global leader in the PV market ahead of Italy with 2.3 GW, which has just begun to realize its huge solar potential.