A Swiss start-up will install solar panels on a railway in western Switzerland, pending approval from transportation officials.
Based in the Swiss town of Ecublens, the firm Sun-Ways has developed a mechanized system for laying down solar panels in which a specially equipped train car glides over the tracks, ejecting panels that fit in between the rails. The panels are outfitted with clamps that fix them into place, and if the tracks need maintenance, the panels can be removed using the same system.
Electricity generated by the panels can be used to power nearby train stations or fed into the grid. To clean the panels, Sun-Ways says that passenger trains can be affixed with cylindrical brushes that remove dirt as they pass over the system. The company says it is developing a way to melt snow and ice that gathers on the panels.
In May, Sun-Ways will undertake a pilot project on a roughly 300-foot stretch of railway next to the Buttes train station near the French border, demonstrating how its system could save space and cut down on labor costs. The company estimates that if panels were installed on every mile of the Swiss rail network, they could meet around 2 percent of Switzerland’s power demand.
The scheme faces skepticism from the International Union of Railways, Swissinfo reports, which has suggested the system could pose a fire risk, but Sun-Ways says that built-in sensors will sure the panels continue to function properly.
“The biggest challenge is not technological,” Sun-Ways cofounder Baptiste Danichert told Swissinfo. “What is needed is a change of mentality in the railway sector, an area that’s usually not very open to innovation.”