The Central line feels as hot as the sun, and soon it could be powered by solar energy directly from the sun.

Transport for London has issued a call for information from green energy suppliers to bid to supply zero-carbon electricity for use on the London Underground.

The market testing that TfL plans to carry out will let the organisation test various suppliers of wind and solar power supplies to see which meet its requirements. The aim is to start purchasing up to 10 per cent of its demand by Spring 2022, and that all the electricity for the tube is supplied via zero-carbon sources within a decade.

TfL is currently London’s single largest consumer of electricity — and one of the largest in the UK — consuming 1.6TWh of power per annum, which TfL says is equivalent to the electricity consumed by over 437,000 homes.

TfL has previously committed to delivering 1.1 megawatts of generating capacity by retrofitting solar panels across its larger existing rooftops, but that is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of electricity the tube trains consume.

Although still in very early stages, there is also a trial on the National Rail network to add solar power to its tracks, and this could be applied to the London Underground in the future, feeding electricity directly to the tube network, if they can iron out the issues of coping with surges in demand when trains pass along the tracks.

TfL currently sources its electricity directly from the National Grid.

The Mayor of London’s office is also planning to look for opportunities to meet London’s wider public sector electricity demand with renewables, helping achieve zero-carbon faster through collaboration with London’s local authorities’ offices, schools and leisure centres. In total, these organisations along with the GLA group currently consume around 3TWh of electricity every year.

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12 comments on “Solar powered tube trains
  1. Phil Barrett says:

    The mixed units are confusing the message. 1.6TWh/year is 182MW, which means the 1.1MW of solar is about 0.6% of the usage.

    • Bob McIntyre says:

      You are confusing things even more… watt hours are a unit of energy not power.

      So 1.6TWh = 5.76x10E15 joules and then back to school:

      average power = energy/time = 5.76x10E15 / 3.15x10E7

      where the 3.15x10E7 is the number of seconds in a year

      The answer is: 1.82x10E8 watts or 182MW

      But note this is the *average* power so if fewer trains run at night the actual consumption then will be low and the daytime instantaneous power consumption will be much higher, making the 1.1MW of solar even more insignificant! (Unless someone works out how to make use of lunar energy at night.)

    • Bettina Coy says:

      Mr McIntyre – There’s no sign of confusion between power and energy in Mr Barrett’s post. His calculated result is the same as yours.

      And there’s no need to use seconds in the calculation. Dividing by a a rough figure of 365×24 hours in a year suffices.

  2. Maurice Reed says:

    Solar power is great but needs acres & acres of land for the photocell arrays. They generate D.C. which has to be converted to A.C. for transmission and converted back to D.C. again which gives a loss of efficiency at each conversion.

  3. jason leahy says:

    Tesla electric car new v3 superchargers in Acton,London are powered by a TfL tube train 11kv feeder system, Tesla Energy was given permission to become an electricity generator company in the UK a month ago, TfL plans to be greener by using cheap nighttime electricity stored in batteries, so will Tesla and TfL sign a PPA for battery storage power and maybe solar ?

  4. Maurice Reed says:

    Has nobody suggested fitting solar panels to the roofs of tube trains? 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

    • 100andthirty says:

      Solar panels on tube train roofs would struggle to generate enough energy to cover the power needed to move the increased weight. They would generate no energy in tunnels of course. Its not unlike the notion of putting propellers on the trains to generate power as they move through the air.

      Also, for some years, LU bought hydro electricity from Scotland. This stopped when it was realised that none of the green electricity made it from Scotland to London!

  5. JP says:

    I was tootling along those lines Maurice, what with the underground being more over than under. No idea how cost-effective it would be (horribly not I expect) but one day in the future it will make sense. As they can make bendy and transparent cells, it can’t be too long before we have a car’s roof, bonnet and windows all producing power. Likewise trains.

    The other thing with yer green lecky is that it has to be made right by the point of use or it’s just normal national mix of everything power. Unless there’s a dedicated cable from the solar panels, windmills and wave machines in the Thames, even if you pay green, you get the nearest power station output et al from the grid. A disappointing realisation.

    • Maurice Reed says:

      I was joking of course as the idea is ridiculous.

    • MilesT says:

      Grid electricity supply is largely fungible (although not completely as the hydro comment demonstrates).

      So if you buy “green” supply it has the odd impact of making other consumers more emitting, by some calculations, until supply largely switches to green sources

  6. JP says:

    The joke was noted, but looking through history, these things catch up and solar trains with batteries for the tunnels will exist. The panel power will start by doing the lights probably and end up contributing its excess to the grid.
    Might take a while though.

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