Solar power for trains dawns in rainy Belgium
* 16,000 solar panels on tunnel power Belgian trains
* Panels produce 3.3 GWh of electricity a year
SCHOTEN, Belgium, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Trains already have a reputation for being a very clean form of transport but Belgian commuters can now boast railways which are partially powered by solar energy.
A public-private consortium consisting of Belgian rail management company Infrabel and solar developer Enfinity has installed 16,000 solar panels on the roof of a 3.4 km (2.1 miles) long tunnel between Antwerp and the Dutch border, creating enough electricity to power 4,000 trains a year.
The unique feature of the project, which is designed to produce 3.3 gigawatt hours a year, is that the energy produced does not flow into the national grid but is used directly by the trains.
Enfinity says that by cutting out the middle man, the grid operator, it can offer electricity about 30 percent cheaper.
Infrabel benefits from being able to sell cheaper electricity to its customers, which include the Belgian railways and private high-speed operator Thalys.
Enfinity and the other investors, such as the councils of the towns of Brasschaat and Schoten which border the tunnel, expect to see a return on their joint investment of 15.7 million euros ($22.12 million) within nine years. Continued...