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Solar Trains

Trains are one of the most effective methods of utilizing solar power in a transportation setting for several reasons. First, electric powered trains are already common. They run off of electricity from the grid and are used extensively throughout the world for above and below ground transportation.

The second thing that makes trains a good target for solar power is their relative efficiency for mass transportation. Only about 3% of the energy burned in a car goes to moving the occupants, the rest goes to moving the car itself or is lost as heat. In trains, the number is much higher because people comprise a relatively larger percentage of a train’s weight than a car. As a result, more solar energy goes to moving occupants in trains than in any other type of transportation.

Belgium launched the world’s first solar powered train in June of 2011. Over 16,000 solar panels were installed on a 50,000 square meter tunnel roof to provide 3.3 Gigawatt-hours of electricity per year. The installation will provide enough electricity to power 4,000 rail trips on the line per year or about 50% of the electricity the system uses. At a cost of $20,000,000, the system should pay for itself quite quickly. Similar installations are being considered throughout the world.

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