Solar powered trains a reality? We hope so!

A new study released today, say that the UK could have a transport network powered directly by the sun. Rail, tube, and tram networks in the UK could bypass the electricity grid altogether by connecting solar panels directly. According to research from Imperial College London's Energy Futures Lab and climate change charity, if this technology were to be built it would help meet a significant share of energy needs for UK transport.

The researchers have spent a year looking into the potential for using bespoke new power electronics to connect solar panels directly to the substations that provide power to the rail system.

They found track-connected solar arrays and on-site energy storage could directly supply about 10 percent of the energy needed to power trains on the UK's direct current (DC) electrified routes each year.

This renewable power could even be cheaper than the electricity presently supplied by the grid, while helping to boost efficiency and reduce emissions, according to the study.

The findings of the study were welcomed by both the London Underground and Network Rail.

Lisbeth Frømling, chief of quality, health, safety and environment at Network Rail, said integrating renewable energy into the UK's rail infrastructure would be a "major step forward to reaching our goal of delivering a low carbon railway".

"As one of the largest energy consumers in the country we welcome this important research and the opportunity to collaborate with others to enable innovation," said Frømling. "The results of this study are encouraging and it is exciting to think that the concept could become reality."

Commuter networks in South London were highlighted as having the most potential for solar. If 200 small solar farms were installed alongside the railway lines they could provide 15 percent of the power needed to run trains on these routes, the study found.  

The study also looked at the solar potential for London Underground, concluding that as much as six percent of the power needed to run the Tube could be supplied directly by solar - equivalent to half the electricity used by trains on the Piccadilly Line, it claims.

The project partners are now seeking funding to prove the concept with around six to 10 community and commuter-owned pilot projects along rail lines in south-east England.