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Solar for train traction in South Africa

Gautrain tracks in Midrand.
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The Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) is seeking proposals for the development of an implementation strategy to deploy photovoltaic power solutions for the Gautrain system – an 80km rail system in Gauteng linking Johannesburg, Pretoria, Ekurhuleni, and the O.R. Tambo International Airport.

The PV facilities are set to provide power to the system’s traction, stations, and depots. The proposed projects should have an initial capacity of 3 MW and could also be linked to some storage capacity.

The rail network comprises a 25kV AC electrified and signaled standard gauge track infrastructure, of which 15.3km is situated underground, as well as 10 stations and one maintenance depot.

Interested consultants have until Mar. 28 to submit their bids.

With specially designed power electronics, PV can be directly connected to electrified railways to supply one-tenth of the energy needed to power trains, without connecting to the grid.

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In related solar train news, the Swiss South Eastern Railway AG (SOB) commissioned a feasibility study from Swiss CMT AG a few years ago, with the aim of reducing its energy requirements and operating costs. It found that solar PV is “well-suited” for installation on the roofs of train stations, halls, and the soundproofed walls along railway lines.

Another recent study by Indian NGO Climate Trends and UK green-tech start-up Riding Sunbeams suggested self-generated solar power would be an optimal way of helping Indian Railways meet its 2030 net-zero target, given the rapid cut in carbon emissions and cost advantages it would offer.

In 2019, UK-based climate change charity 10:10 developed a demonstrator solar array in partnership with Community Energy South and national rail infrastructure operator Network Rail. According to its developers, a solar plant can theoretically be connected to any traction substation and supply from five to 10 km of the track in either direction.

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Source: pv magazine