How Smart Microgrids are Supporting Rail Electrification

The electrification of the UK’s railways is a key pillar of the UK’s efforts to decarbonise transport. While the change has been slower than expected, the early results look promising in terms of reducing carbon emissions from rail transport. Emissions per kilometre of travel have steadily declined, while an increase in the use of renewable energy has seen emissions from electricity fall despite increased consumption. 

The speed that the UK’s rail network is being electrified is slower than required to meet net zero goals. A target of 448km of new electrified track every year has only been exceeded once in the last seven. Electrifying a length of railway is a challenging project, requiring a large increase in available electricity capacity, and typically substation and infrastructure upgrades to achieve.  

An alternative means of electrification is using battery-charged trains and fast-charging rails that allows them to charge while at a station. However, this comes with its own infrastructure headaches, as sourcing the additional capacity for a high-demand technology such as fast charging rails is rarely straightforward. Many stations, ranging from city centres to more rural stations, may not have enough capacity on their local distribution network to be able to incorporate fast charging. This may mean expensive grid connection works or could simply see permission for a proposed project turned down outright. 

How Microgrids can unlock rail projects 

Managing electricity across a train station site is rapidly becoming more complicated. The challenges of charging trains aside, there is also a growing expectation from passengers that rapid EV charging is available. Many stations and train lines have extensive rooftop or ground space for solar PV generation. While this can play a key role in reducing energy costs and emissions, as well as providing additional capacity when rapid charging trains, the inflexible nature of solar generation makes this a challenge in practice. Overnight, that additional capacity effectively disappears. 

One solution is to transform a site into a smart microgrid, able to operate independently of the wider grid when required. With the installation of a battery energy storage system alongside on-site generation, the challenges of matching available capacity with charging demand becomes much simpler. Solar panels deliver excess generation to the battery, and that power can then be used for charging. Electric vehicle charging works in much the same way, further reducing demand on the site’s grid connection. 

Powerstar specialise in solving complex electricity infrastructure challenges using our technologies and expertise, including smart microgrids. No two sites are alike, and each customer has different priorities when it comes to reducing energy costs, carbon emissions, the risk of disruption, or allowing new technologies to be integrated into a site. That’s why we develop bespoke solutions that focus on solving your specific energy management priorities. 

Contact us now to find out more