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Infrabel and Enfinity announce completion of 16,000-panel solar train tunnel


June 10, 2011

About 4,000 trains per year - or the equivalent of a full day's worth of Belgian rail traffic - will be able to run entirely on solar power generated by the installation

About 4,000 trains per year - or the equivalent of a full day's worth of Belgian rail traffic - will be able to run entirely on solar power generated by the installation

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The roof of a two mile stretch of tunnel over Belgium's high speed rail line has been fitted out with 16,000 solar panels to provide power for trains running through Antwerp Central Station and the surrounding railway infrastructure. Solar solution provider Enfinity says that about 4,000 trains per year - or the equivalent of a full day's worth of Belgian rail traffic - will be able to run entirely on solar power generated by the installation.

Engineers began covering the 50,000 square meter (164,000 sq ft) surface area of the roof of Belgium's HSL4 high-speed rail tunnel with monocrystalline solar panels (rated at 245 Wp per panel) in the summer of last year. The panels have been installed using a special ballast tile structure which negates the need for rooftop perforations. Enfinity says that the installation has just started generating the estimated 3.3 GWh* of electricity per year - equivalent to the average annual electricity consumption of nearly 1,000 homes.

The municipalities of Brasschaat and Schoten, intermunicipal financing companies FINEA and IKA, and solar construction company Solar Power Systems joined Enfinity and Belgian rail operator Infrabel for the Solar Tunnel project, which is said to be the first time railway infrastructure has been used to generate green energy. The cost of the project was around US$20 million.

The solar energy will be used in Antwerp's North-South junction to meet the electricity needs of the signaling, lighting, heating of railway stations, and also by the trains using the Belgian rail network.

In related news, the UK's Network Rail recently announced that the new Blackfriars Station, that is to span the River Thames, will have half of its electricity needs met by solar panels installed on the roof.

*Chloé Van Driessche from Enfinity's Belgian headquarters has confirmed that the amount generated annually is 3.3 GWh, not 3.3 MWh as previously stated by the company's U.S. office.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

3.3 MWh per year is well under the energy consumption of ONE home, not 1000.

Jim Fiske

@ Jim

The accepted average for one home\'s energy consumption is 8,900 kWh/year (data from US Energy Information Agency) The solar tunnel according to the Straits times News website (posted 2 days before this one) energy output is 3,300 MWh or 3,300,000 kWh. Therefore it would power aprox 400 homes, I suspect Enfinity has used \"favourable\" data to provide a 1,000 Wow number, and the Author of this article has made a copy/paste error missing some zeros, the internet is becomes Chinese whispers because of one sloppy Author, I\'ve seen a few websites quote this article already.


Two things:

Jim Fiske... Same Jim Fikse as in Fiske racing wheels? If so, Hi!

\'One Days\' worth of train travel? Is that really worth the investment of $20m USD? I think it will take a few decades past those solar cell\'s lifetime to repay that...?

Jason Myers


The average home\'s energy in belgium is only about 3500KWh/year, so the favourable data is actually real data they used. And the 3500 is already counted as a relatively high usage. A small user only uses about 600KWH according to statistics.


I believe that that you shouldn\'t apply US statistics for an European country. I can\'t cite a source but Europe\'s Energy Portal assumes an annual household consumption of 3500kWh which would make the \"1000 households\" a plausible statement albeit still rounded up.

Dimitar Haralampiev

In Belgium the average annual electricityconsumption of one home is arround 3600kWh. (heating not included, this is a mix of natural gas or oil) So the 1000 homes figure is a littlebit optimistic but reasonable. I personally use 6500kWh each jear (heating included, alle electric), it\'s all about making choises and using the right technology for each task.

On the other side we do have a less intelligent system to distribute the cost of this installation.

Also check Lithium Titanaat - Lithium Iron Phosfate (LTO-LFP) batteries, they found a solution at the TUM in Münich.


@Neon - the source link to the company website (Enfinity) quotes 3.3 MWh, not the author of this article: http://www.enfinitycorp.com/media-center/news-releases/europes-first-green-train

Christopher Littlefair

Enfinity corporation is a US based Company, what\'s more NO ONE gave a source regarding household energy consumption in Belgium according to (International Energy Agency (IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA, http://www.iea.org/stats/index.asp), Energy Statistics and Balances of Non-OECD Countries and Energy Statistics of OECD Countries.) Electricity consumption per capita in Beglium is 8,523 kWh source: http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met_y=eg_use_elec_kh_pc&idim=country:BEL&dl=en&hl=en&q=electricity consumption in belgium So saying electricity consumption at 8,900kWh per household is more than fair.

@Christopher - it could be a typo on their site http://www.therecycletimes.com/2011/06/solar-tunnel-project-connects-paris-and-amsterdam-through-solar-powered-euro-trains/ http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20070013-54/high-speed-euro-train-system-gets-solar-power/ http://www.rail.co/2011/06/07/high-speed-rail-tunnel-in-belgium-gets-16000-solar-panels/ I could find more....

3.3MWh/year for a $20Mil solar project is a con, 3,300MWh/year is more reasonable, I found a suppler selling 245Wp panels for $404 they were near identical to the panels in the photos, and lets say we use $10mil for the solar panels and Belgium gets on average 4.3hrs of sun per day, we purchase 25,000 panels rated at 245Wp, for arguments sake the panels only output under half at 120W

25,000120= 3,000,000 Wp 3,000,0004.3 = 12,900,000 Wh/day 12,900,000365.3(days)= 4712.3710^6 Wh/year or 4,712 MWh/year

1 Megawatt = 1*10^6 Watts

................................................................................................... source for the supplier: http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/441089543/245wp_solar_panel.html


We use 4500 kWHr a year, but we\'re Flemish-American, not Belgian. The key is not using electricity just to heat up things. Very inefficient.

Captain Obvious

@ jason mayers The reason it is build in the Flemish part is because they over subsidize this stupidity for every megawatt they get 350 Eur * 3300 = being 1.617000 dollar a year. Together with the investment deduction and the notary deduction it is paid back to them in 5 to 6 years. and makes them a revenue of 15 to 20 % a year on investment. Of course the Flemish consumer pays the bill again.

Facebook User

16,000 PVs x 245Wp = 3.9 MWp @ $20m or EUR 14m => 3.57 EUR/Wp quity high CAPEX (investment) compared to 2-2.5 EUR/Wp market currntly...

Is one of the companies state own?

Stefan Yordanov

Hello Stefan, Peter and all,

The price of 3.57 EUR.Wp is less than half what it was a few years ago. This is a weaning process. With an infant being weaned, you have to hand-feed and hold and encourage until the child 1) can feed herself or himself, and 2) has developed emotional strength to leave the disappointment of not being allowed to nurse behind. The metaphor is being able to consume resources for manufacturing so efficiently (without spilling monetary \'food\' on the floor so to speak) that the product price decreases enough to cross the rising price of fossil energy. The subsidies are a necessary response to: 1) climate change, 2) peak oil, 3) the devastating effects of coal mining on humans and nature, 4) the opportunities for holding society financially hostage presented by peak oil and rising demand for energy, especially in China and India, to the OPEC cartel and to the oil oligopolies.

We have enough data on the oil markets to be able to project how badly they will gouge us as demand approaches and passes supply to be able to calculate with confidence that subsidizing solar until its unsupported price is below the tax-subsidized price of oil (and even natural gas), which still do not have to pay for their externalized social and environmental costs, will be hugely profitable for society as a whole -- all of us -- by comparison. This is because since societies are competing with each other, and the rich are competing against the rest of us, with close to no holds barred, and they will happily raise prices just to the point before society falls apart. If they make a mistake? \"Oops, sorry about that, carry on!\" and walk away.

I just remembered another example of the economics involved. In Kenya, farmers were told, \"I will give you two dollars for two hundred potatoes, in a bag. You can either take my offer, or watch your potatoes rot in the ground or turn green above the ground.\" Direct quote from a Stanford Digital Vision Fellow who grew potatoes with his brother one year. The potatoes cost that much to grow, and the buyer had the farmers over a barrel and was willing to push that far.

Here in Idaho, the buyers were playing the very same pirate game, so the farmers set frameworks of pine tree trunks over dry gullies, covered them with thick layers of hay, put doors at the bottoms, and poured potatoes in at the top to keep them cool and out of the sun (first-in, first-out inventory control, too). Result? Farmer can tell buyer no. Farmer can wait until another buyer shows up who is willing to pay a fair price (forgot to mention that cooked potatoes on the street sell for a dollar a potato). Today, as telecommunication spreads into rural areas in the developing world, farmers will increasingly be able to check prices in the city, and can negotiate for agreements to sell at a fair price, instead of the middlemen getting obscenely rich and the farmers starving, which obviously leads eventually to the masses in the city starving.

In effect, the society as a whole, by subsidizing competing sources of energy, is fighting the oligopoly power of the oil supply chain, forcing it to reduce prices. Historically, that has actually been used preemptively by the oil industry, reducing prices enough to present high barriers to entry to renewable energy sources (cannot compete prior to huge investments in both research & development, and volume, high-technology manufacturing). They also fight subsidies for renewable energy sources tooth and nail, which is why you are hearing ideas that lead you to write what you did. They pay shills to pretend to still be scientists and \'public policy makers\', and to insinuate that nature and its advocates are not to be trusted, nor is the social safety net.

This happened a few times, confirming economic theories. So the solar water heating industry collapsed in the 1980s, but everything I told my prospects when I was in that industry until then has proven true, if a little slower than we thought. In other nations now, solar water heating is everywhere, and we are laggards. And good technology is 50% to 65% efficient!

So, finally, renewable energy advocates got enough political power to get the subsidies passed, and to have a global understanding (again, with the US the laggards) that this time, we keep subsidizing until the renewable energy industries can defeat the fossil fuel and nuclear industries across the board, and take their monopoly power away from them forever.

This will give humanity a chance to both save the planet from climate change, and reverse the destruction of both the social compact and natural habitat (the places where other species live).

Yours truly,

Mark Roest

Mark Roest
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