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A sustainable energy production pilot project on Neuchâtel’s railways


30 January 2023

Sun-Ways has set itself the challenge of running a significant part of the Swiss railway system on solar electricity. A test run in the canton of Neuchâtel could offer substantial benefits to the country in a few months.

A pilot project to install solar panels between railway tracks will be launched this spring in the canton of Neuchâtel by Vaud-based company Sun-Ways. This could mark a new turning point in sustainable energy production. The project consists of installing panels between the rails on a portion of the Buttes line, without visual impact. This removable installation allows operators to carry out maintenance work on the tracks. A machine developed by Sun-Ways is used to mechanically install and remove the panels.

The Val-de-Travers was chosen to launch the project thanks to the partnership with TransN and the participation of other players such as Viteos and the CSEM. The main challenge was to find collaborative partners. The project will be tested from May on a 100-meter section of the railway line in Buttes.

The energy produced will be used by TransN to supply low-voltage signalling and points. Sun-Ways aims to provide traction power directly for trains or the public electricity grid in the long term. According to Sun-Ways, Swiss railway networks could produce 1 TWh of solar electricity per year, representing 30% of the consumption of public transport companies in Switzerland.

Neuchâtel, a pioneer of solar technologies

The world-first deployment of solar panels on the railway tracks in Buttes is no coincidence. After all, the canton of Neuchâtel is considered a pioneer in solar energy technologies. At the beginning of 2022, two companies active in the energy transition, VARO Energy Group and Groupe E, announced the construction of the country’s most powerful ground-mounted solar power plant in Cressier. The same year, Groupe E’s new Solar Access training course was launched, offering training in the various aspects of photovoltaic solar energy through a combination of theory and practice.

The canton of Neuchâtel is also home to CSEM’s Swiss Center for Sustainable Energy, an industry-oriented programme that promotes innovation and accelerates technology transfer in the fields of photovoltaics and sustainable energy storage/management. Its mission is to bring new high-tech solar and energy solutions to technological maturity to serve the Swiss and global renewable energy industry.