Switzerland is making strides in renewable energy by installing solar panels on train tracks. A Swiss startup called Sun-Ways is spearheading the initiative, with the panels being rolled out in the gap between the tracks near the Buttes train station. The project has received approval from the country’s Federal Office of Transport, allowing it to proceed.
Despite not being the first firm to investigate this idea, Sun-Ways distinguishes out for two main reasons. First off, the business uses standard-sized solar panels, as opposed to other businesses who have used smaller panels to fit inside the railway rails. The entire panel-laying procedure has also been mechanised by Sun-Ways utilising a specially constructed train that unrolls the panels down the tracks, doing away with the need for physical labour. A 140-foot section of railway near Neuchâtel will have 60 solar panels installed as part of the current trial project, which will cost around $560,000 and be finished by the end of the summer.
Initially, the electricity generated by the solar panels will be used to power local households. However, there are future plans to utilize some of the energy to run the trains themselves. Sun-Ways co-founder Baptiste Danichert envisions covering the entire 5,000km Swiss railroad network with solar panels, which could generate up to 1 gigawatt of energy per year—enough to power approximately 750,000 homes. For the pilot program, Sun-Ways has retrofitted a regular train with specialized tools to lay the panels. In the future, they plan to use a custom train with dedicated carriages—one for storing the panels and another for installation. These panels are designed to remain on the tracks unless they require maintenance or repairs, in which case the same train will be used to remove them temporarily.
While the increased adoption of renewable energy is generally welcomed by environmentalists, some express caution regarding this particular development. Bill Nussey, founder of the clean energy advocacy group Freeing Energy Project, highlights potential challenges such as debris from passing trains, the distance between panels, and connecting them to the grid. Overcoming these obstacles will determine the success of the experiment.
An inventive method of utilising current infrastructure for the production of renewable energy is the placement of solar panels atop Swiss train rails. If successful, this project might pave the way for a more extensive implementation, considerably advancing Switzerland’s aims for renewable energy and spurring comparable projects elsewhere.