Solar Power for New Moroccan Rail Line.
Aside from walking or bicycling or perhaps traveling by electric car, taking the train is often considered the most energy efficient and low emission way to get around. But, determining exactly how efficient or how emission free is a difficult calculation - many questions need to be answered first.
What type of train? Intercity, commuter, subway, light-rail or tram? How many stops? Express or nonstop? A long distance train but a milk-run with a stop at every town? How many passengers on board? Full capacity? Average? Lightly loaded? What type of propulsion? Pure electric with a power grid connection? Diesel electric?
Of course, energy consumption of a whole train is enormous, so typically fuel consumption per passenger mile is the looked-for result. And, to put things into perspective, fuel efficiency is converted to passenger miles per gallon of gasoline so people can compare it with their cars.
Using Wikipedia as a source of accumulated information by way of a number of citations, passenger rail fuel economy on a per passenger basis can range from a low of 39 passenger miles per gallon on the US Amtrak system (many Amtrak lines are underutilized with few passengers) to a as high of 1400 passenger miles per gallon for some light rail vehicles operating in Europe that might operate at high passenger capacity all the time.
So somewhere in between 39 and 1400 energy efficiency is quite high for rail.
Yet there’s another question that needs to be answered. If a train is pure electric, connected to the grid by pantograph (that awkward looking device on a train’s roof that connects it with a bare overhead wire on the catenary) or in the case of subway cars, a third rail, where does that electricity come from? In the US it’s most likely to come from a coal fired power plant. That’s because coal is the most common form of power generation in the country. So despite advances in rail over more than a century, the slick Amtrak Acela train you may be on might be powered by coal just like passenger trains in the 1800’s. (But the belching emissions from the train might come from a power plant many miles from the train.)
So we can still say trains are more efficient users of energy, but they’d be cleaner if they were powered by renewables.
Well, at least in part, that’s on course to happen in a part of the world you may never visit, (but might like to) Morocco.
In a frame agreement between the Kingdom of Morocco and France, the French Republic plans to award French industry, specifically Alstom, a contract for the design, manufacture, construction, operation and maintenance of a very-high speed rail link between Tangier and Casablanca. Included in the agreement, which should be finalized in 2008, Alstom will also build power generation facilities with a capacity of 470 megawatts to energize the rail link. While most of the capacity will come from standard gas combined cycle combustion, 20 megawatts will be from solar power - a first in the world. Neat.
A 183,000 square meter (45 acre) field of solar panels will be built to supply the emission-free electricity.
The first phase of the rail link will be between Tangier-Kenitra. This 200 km (124 mile) link will be used by trains running at 320 kph (200 mph) and should be in operation by 2013.
As part of the project, Alstom is scheduled to deliver 18 very high speed Duplex double deck train sets.
Moroccan passenger rail use is increasing at a rate of 10 -15 percent per year. To meet demand over the coming decades the Moroccan railway master plan provides for the construction of 1,500 km (900 miles) of high speed rail lines by 2030 to 2035.
On the day the first phase is open, Morocco will be the first country in Africa to use world-class advanced high speed rail transport. The solar power contribution may never be seen by passengers, but the first in the world solar powered rail may mark a shift in rail transport technology that others may follow.