Swiss start-up Sun-Ways is set to install solar panels near Buttes train station in the western part of Switzerland, pending approval from the Federal Office of Transport.
What makes Sun-Ways’ system unique is that it has patented a removable system with the help of the Swiss federal technology institute, EPFL. Railway tracks require essential maintenance work from time to time, which is why Sun-Ways’ mechanical system to install its removable solar panels is crucial. The specially designed train developed by Swiss track maintenance company Scheuchzer lays photovoltaic panels as it travels along the rails.
Electricity produced by the PV system is fed into the power grid and used to power homes, as feeding it into railway operations would be a more complicated process.
Sun-Ways estimates that the national rail network could produce one Terawatt-hour (TWh) of solar energy per year, equivalent to around 2 percent of Switzerland’s total energy consumption. The company’s eco-innovation is ambitious, and in theory, the panels could cover an area around the size of 760 football fields across Switzerland’s 5,317-kilometre-long railway network.
Sun-Ways aims to extend its reach to Germany, Austria, and Italy once the pilot project near Buttes is successful.
“There are over a million kilometers of railway lines in the world,” says co-founder Baptiste Danichert, “We believe that 50 percent of the world’s railways could be equipped with our system.”
The International Union of Railways has expressed concern that the panels could suffer micro-cracks, lead to a higher risk of fires in green areas, and even distract train drivers with reflections. However, Sun-Ways has built-in sensors that ensure the panels work correctly, while brushes attached to the end of trains could remove dirt from the surface of the panels.
The start-up says its panels are more resistant than conventional ones and could have an anti-reflection filter to keep out of train drivers’ eyes. Sun-Ways is also working on a system to melt frozen precipitation, which could stop horizontal panels from being useful during ice and snowfall.
Sun-Ways’ innovation brings new potential in unusual surfaces, essential as the climate crisis demands that Europe’s energy transition speeds up. In addition, Sun-Ways’ removable solar panel system is a significant step forward in ensuring that railway tracks can be cleared for essential maintenance work.