Off-grid energy powers on-track comms

Panasonic deploys its off-grid energy solution to drive sustainability with on-track comms. 

Client - Large rail operator 
Location - Worlaby, North Lincolnshire 


Move away from a reliance on environmentally damaging diesel generators to provide off-grid power for rural track infrastructure. 

Panasonic and ADComms, in partnership with poweroasis, installed a hybrid energy solution lineside, making use of twelve 250W Panasonic Solar Panels, connected to a 235 Ah Li-ion battery solution and supplemented with a 6kW diesel generator, reducing diesel use, and accompanying environmental impact and costs.

Rural areas are often challenged by the lack of reliability and consistency in their power sources. A wide array of track infrastructure requires a consistent electricity source and supplying it is an ongoing operational challenge. Fulfilling a commitment to meet overall environmental targets, our customer looked at its existing power systems and realised that improvements could be made and alternative sustainable options were available.

A sustainable development strategy for 2013-2024 was put in place, part of which sees the railway continuing to look at new and innovative methods of managing its existing operations and activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As of 2016, within England and Wales, the railway had successfully reduced their non-traction CO2 emissions by 6.4% compared to the previous year. However, they were still 38,179 tonnes off of their projected target of 214,977 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Worlaby, located in North Lincolnshire, is one example of a successful off-grid line demonstrating the industry's move towards highly sustainable power sources in rural locations throughout the UK. In the attempt to power a GSM-R repeater in an area with limited accessible power grid access, Panasonic was enlisted to seek out a more cost effective and sustainable way of powering GSM-R repeaters. 

Previously, there has been a reliance on diesel to provide off-grid power which has been a large contributor to the railway's high emissions levels for many years. There are also considerable costs in the unavoidable regular physical monitoring and topping up of fuel. This requires over ten visits a year, creating an opportunity for mistakes to be made, fuel being spilled or power and rail services to be disrupted.

With service reliability being a continuing priority for the railway, this was a key concern. The solution proposed helped remove some potential issues and  created the opportunity for financial savings to be made every year, as well as positively contribute to the sustainability ambitions of the railway.

"Running a diesel generator throughout the year costs around £ £36,000. Since the installation of the Solar system, (after only fifteen weeks), the total operating costs, including diesel, had already fallen from £10,000 to just £6 over that period," says Andrea Johnston, Project Manager, ADComms, a Panasonic company.

The overall capital investment of deploying the hybrid solution at Worlaby will be recovered in less than 3 years, compared with the customer's standard generator solution.

Panasonic, working in conjunction with ADComms and poweroasis, saw the opportunity renewables have for this unique but critical application. The jointly developed off-grid hybrid energy solution is ideally suited to meet the demands of the railway in remote locations with no access to the wider power grid. The system was designed based on twelve 250W Panasonic Solar Panels, connected to a 235 Ah Liion battery solution, supplemented with a 6kW diesel generator set.

"The high-level objectives were to provide a reliable, cost-effective, off-grid power solution with modern, innovative and best-of-breed components," explained Andrea Johnston, project manager for ADComms at Worlaby.

The solution makes use of Panasonic's ultra-efficient HIT solar PV panels, which produce 25% more output power than a standard solar panel, enabling them to produce usable energy year round. The company set a world record for efficiency with the panel in 2016[i]

Thanks to the hybrid setup, which combines lithium ion battery technology and renewable energy sources, diesel consumption has significantly reduced. In just over three months, the customer has saved £876 in diesel costs, and it is anticipated the original generator will only need to operate a handful of times in any twelve-month period. As a result physical visits can be scaled down from more than ten a year to just one. In environmental terms this equates to offsetting the release of 23.4 tonnes of CO2 annually.

By combining a small footprint diesel generator alongside renewables, diesel consumption can be significantly reduced, improving the overall environmental impact of the system as well as bringing the maintenance costs associated with having to go out and refuel down too.

Each installation is custom manufactured and scaled to the needs of its individual customers, ensuring overall effectiveness, making use of real-time software tools, including remote management and automatic fault location. In a major step up from the old analogue generator-reliant system, this has boosted operational and maintenance efficiency, bringing associated costs down. Not only was this the most environmentally friendly solution, it was also the most practical and financially beneficial option available to the customer.