Swiss Startup Introduces Solar Tracks to Increase Renewable Energy Generation

April 05, 2023 by Claire Turvill

A Switzerland-based startup is looking to utilize the open space between railroad tracks to install removable solar panels. 

Sun-Ways, a Swiss energy startup, has developed a new mechanical device that allows for the deployment of removable solar panels along railway tracks. The innovative solution has the potential to generate renewable energy on half of the railway lines worldwide.

Standard-sized solar panels can be installed using ample space between railroad tracks without impeding train passage. This technology could help countries like Switzerland produce more renewable energy, where a need for more available space often limits large-scale installations.


Solar Panel Installation

Sun-Ways uses pre-assembled factory solar panels from Switzerland that measure one-meter wide. These panels are positioned between train lines and fastened to the rails using a piston mechanism. The installation is done mechanically by a train provided by a Swiss track upkeep company Scheuchzer.


Digital rendering: solar panels are laid out between train tracks. Image used courtesy of Sun-Ways


As the train travels along the track, it unrolls the photovoltaic panels, creating a seamless installation. While this concept is not entirely new, with Italy's Greenrail and England's Bankset Energy testing photovoltaic components mounted on railroad sleepers, Sun-Ways' approach using removable panels offers a more flexible and scalable solution.

The startup’s system is also the first patented removable system. A benefit of the removable panels is that they allow for easier track maintenance.

Sun-Ways’ co-founder, Baptiste Danichert, has stated that the electricity produced by the removable solar panels installed along railway tracks will be fed directly to Switzerland's power grid to supply residential areas with renewable energy. According to Danichert, utilizing this solar-generated power for the railways would require specialized technology and pose greater challenges than transmitting it to the grid.

This experimental project has yet to be fully proven. The International Union of Railways has concerns regarding issues such as the development of microcracks, increased risk of forest fires, and possible distractions for train drivers caused by reflections off the panels.


Solar Power Generation

It may be possible to cover the entire length of Switzerland’s rail network, which spans 5,317 kilometers (3303 miles), with solar panels. This would cover an area equivalent to about 760 football fields, excluding tunnels and areas with limited sunlight. Sun-Ways estimates that if such a project were to be implemented, Switzerland’s railway system could generate approximately 1 terawatt-hour of solar energy per year. This is roughly 2 percent of the country’s total electricity needs.

Digital rendering: solar panels can operate without environmental or visual impact. Image used courtesy of Sun-Ways


Sun-Ways hopes to expand its operations in the coming years to other European countries such as Germany, Austria, and Italy, as well as the United States and Asia. With over a million kilometers of railways lines worldwide, the startup believes it can equip at least 50 percent of the world’s railways with its system.


Solar Panel Pilot Project

The initial pilot project for Sun-Ways’ removable solar panel system will be implemented on Western Switzerland’s public rail network near the Buttes train station. The project is expected to cost approximately CHF400,000 (USD 437,240).

This first project is already supported by Scheuchzer, Geneva Industrial Services Vitale Innovation Fund, transN, and Viteos, among other local Swiss partners.