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EURO RAIL EXPERTISE


Many commentators and academic papers have discussed the need to make better use of rail infrastructure – but in Belgium they are one step ahead, after a joint project to install 16,000 solar panels on the roof of a high-speed tunnel near Antwerp. RTM spoke to Bart Van Renterghem of renewable energy developer Enfi nity.


It


is the sort of project that eve- ryone looks at and knows


it make sense – turning useless space into useful space, in this case the roof of a railway tunnel.


In Belgium, it took a partnership between operator Infrabel, renew- able energy developer Enfi nity, the municipalities of Brasschaat and Schoten, fi nancing companies FINEA and IKA, and construction fi rm Solar Power Systems, to cre- ate the fi rst ‘solar tunnel’ in Eu- rope.


The energy generated powers the rail infrastructure, from signalling to heating, as well as the train ser- vices themselves.


The most comparable scheme in the UK is probably the new roof of Blackfriars station (see pages 40- 41), but no other recent tunnelling projects where this sort of inno- vative energy production method was seriously considered – so is there anything stopping this Eu- ropean concept arriving on British shores?


Head of Enfi nity UK, based in Liv- erpool, Bart Van Renterghem, told RTM that much depended on gov- ernment support – and we spoke to him soon after the Department of Energy & Climate Change scaled back its feed-in tariff funding scheme specifi cally to stop bigger projects sucking up all the money, when it is supposed to act more as an incentive for homeowners and small projects.


He explained: “What is stopping this sort of scheme in the UK? The Government introduced last year an incentive feed-in tariff scheme in the UK. As it has been originally introduced, that would have ena- bled the development of this kind of project in the UK.


50 | rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11


“The incentive mechanism, as it is still in force today, allows the de- velopment of solar PV projects up to 5MW. However, there are a lot of projects being developed on ag- ricultural land, injecting electricity straight into the grid, and the Gov- ernment became very concerned that this kind of project would take up too big a chunk of the available budget.


“But instead of differentiating be- tween those large-scale projects in the countryside and large-scale projects such as the Antwerp ‘solar tunnel’ or commercial rooftops, they have been very rough in de- fi ning the new criteria and saying everything above 50kW, we do not


want anymore.


“So if they had thought the pro- cesses through a little bit better and differentiated between those large-scale projects on agricultural land and projects on infrastruc- ture works, landfi lls and commer- cial rooftops, I think that would go some way to preserving the feed-in tariff budget, which would still en- able the development of this kind of project. But they have thrown away the baby with the bathwater.


“We have tried to lobby as much as possible to make this kind of pro- ject still available and the Govern- ment has still judged that they still only want solar for the residential


market and on community hous- ing and schools and so on.”


But many successful industries do not need this level of Government support – does he foresee a situ- ation where solar technology im- proves to the extent that it could be economically viable without such subsidy? Some studies, such as one recent analysis by Ernst & Young, have suggested that by as soon as 2020, solar power will have achieved ‘grid parity’, mean- ing it is economically viable with- out subsidy. This will be because of both the rising costs of non- renewable power, and the ever- decreasing installed costs of large solar projects.


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