Sounds brilliant and simple – carpet the space between the rails with solar panels to produce a supply of alternate energy to help power the trains.
Since Switzerland is famous for its trains, it made sense to test a solar railroad project here.
Except the program has run into trouble and halted. Derailed, you might say.
The Swiss Transport Ministry has advised startup Sun-Ways that the project would be too difficult to maintain and could risk train delays.
Sun-Ways had proposed a CHF400,000 ($458,000) plan to install and test its solar modules on a section of track approximately 300 feet long near Buttes in Val-de-Travers.
That’s in the rural and picturesque western Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, famous for its cheese of the same name.
Theoretically, solar panels could be installed on all 5,317 kilometres (around 3,300 miles) of the Swiss rail network, for a total area corresponding to about 760 football fields. The panels would not be placed, in tunnels or areas exposed to little sunshine.
The project called for the panels to be inserted on the so-called sleepers between the tracks, and this is where the idea ran into trouble.
Sun-Ways says the national rail network could produce 1 Terawatt-hour (TWh) of solar energy per year, or about 2% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland.
Accoding to the Swiss news site SwissInfo, trains would have to stop running if panels need repairing.
The transport ministry also worried that normal debris thrown off by trains would prove an unacceptable risk of damaging the panels.
Sun-Ways did not comment to the media on the setback, but the rejection shows that converting to renewable energy in Switzerland is not as straightforward as a Swiss train schedule.
Switzerland has set an ambitious target of zero net emissions by 2050, a plan that was endorsed by voters recently
Increasing the network of solar panels is seen as one way of reaching the target, but only if photovoltaic projects can be realized.
But the plan is suffering from NIMBY – not in my backyard.
There’s also a program to pave highways with solar panels – not the roadways, but a solar deck above.
Laurent Jospin, the boss of Energypier, another Swiss renewables start-up has proposed adding an open canopy structure over a 1.6 kilometer (one mile) stretch of the A9 motorway that snakes through the Rhône Valley in canton Valais, near Martigny.
The location and conditions are perfect for one of his solar highway pilot projects, he said.
Valais, with its sun-drenched terraced vineyards and fertile orchards, is after all one of the sunniest regions in Switzerland.
“I fear we are heading towards a really serious climate situation. Right now, we’re not taking the right path. I have children and I believe it’s my duty to do something,” he tells SWI swissinfo.ch.
His plan is to install 47,000 solar panels on open canopy metal structures to produce electricity for 12,000 households a year.
Think of it as an extended version of the solar canopies you already see shading spaces in outdoor parking areas, while they also provide power.
Energypier is planning a similar pilot scheme on 2.5km (just under two miles) of motorway near Zurich for 20,000 households. In a secondary phase, he wants to install small vertical wind turbines next to the structures.
Related articles about solar power and other alternative energy sources in Switzerland, also from SwissInfo.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA), a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and a current member of the North American Travel Journalists Assn. (NATJA).
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