High-speed rail systems are becoming increasingly popular all around the world, however clean energy company Enfinity has found a way to make them even more appealing – power them using solar energy. The Belgian company, working alongside Belgian rail infrastructure firm Infrabel, has come up with a first-of-its-kind plan to install 16,000 solar panels on the roof of a two-mile long rail tunnel that connects Paris to Amsterdam.

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The installation will see 50,000 square meters of solar panels installed in a bid to reduce the EU rail network‘s carbon footprint. The panels are expected to produce 3.5Mw/hours of energy each year, and will cost $20.1 million. The power produced will be used to power conventional and high-speed trains running on the line, as well as parts of Antwerp Station. The project is due for completion in December.

There are some immediate questions to this scheme though — won’t the vibrations of a train rushing through a tunnel cause the solar panels to shake and possibly break? According to Enfinity, this won’t be a problem — they have said they will address the issue by using a ballast tile that avoids the need to put perforations directly in the roof of the tunnel, insulating the solar panels from the strong kinetic force created by the trains. On top of that, the solar panels will be designed to take heavy punishment.

High-speed rail is already regarded as a clean technology due to its efficiency and the alternative that it provides to automobiles, however if a method can be found to power the rail stations and facilities using renewable energy, this will make the whole system even ‘greener’. Countries all over the world are seeing the benefits of rail, with China planning to buy 80 super high speed trains and the US still pushing for its various networks funded by the Recovery Act.

Enfinity has already made in-roads to the US solar market after it installed solar facilities at a school district in California. However now the company is planning even more projects around the US. If this tunnel project works, it is possible Enfinity will receive contracts in the US, should the country’s high-speed rail ambitions ever gain traction.

+ Enfinity

Via Business Green

Image © Brian Douglas