Free electricity from railway tracks?

Published on Friday, 06 October 2017

Published by Sohail Hasnie on Friday, 06 October 2017

How often do you see something really exciting? Not everyday, right? For most of us it’s hard to remember our last “wow” moment.

I had mine last month, at the Future of Energy Expo in Astana, Kazakhstan. I sat there pondering for few minutes about how onemight come up with such a game changing idea – so simple and yet so powerful!  

We have seen solar panels on roofs, cars, watches, calculators, backpacks, even on lakes, so why not on railway “sleepers”? 100W of power on each sleeper collectively generates about 1 MW from a 6 km section of railway track. Wow! Plain and simple.

The numbers were going through my head.

A 1 MW wind turbine’s base weight is almost 70 tons, and it’s about as high as a 20-story building. A 1 MW solar power generation facility needs about a hectare (2.5 acres) of land for both solar and wind, but the space used by the railway sleepers is already occupied – millions of km of railways around the world.

  Solar panels on railway sleepers optimize already occupied space for clean energy

We recently did a 24-hour journey on a Ghan train from Alice Springs to Darwin in Australia’s red center; that’s about 1560 km, or over 250 MW of generation potential. 

The 1,800 m long Ghan runs on two diesel-electric locomotives with 4,400 horsepower each (or about 3.3 MW each and 6.6 MW total). The whole train and all its stations could easily run on the solar power from sleepers on the railway tracks.

Our world has 1.3 million km of railway tracks. India alone has 115,000 km, and 240 million Indians have no electricity.

If we apply this technology, small towns could have free electricity for their cars from the railway tracks. Railway companies could gain extra revenue by selling the excess generation to utilities, or customers to power their electric cars.

The potential of this technology is limitless. I think this is one of the smartest ideas that I have seen for a while. Check out my video above.