Belgium's 3,200-km-long rail tunnel to host unique solar power project

A 3,200m-long Belgian rail tunnel intended to provide protection to trains from falling trees would, from today, provide an added benefit by way of generating solar energy
in a unique project.

The high-speed line connecting Paris and Amsterdam passes through the city of Antwerp as also an ancient forest. To avoid felling of protected trees, a long tunnel was built over the line; the tunnel has now been topped with 16,000 solar panels.

The electricity produced by the panels would be enough to power trains in Belgium for a day each year. Additionally, it would also help power the Antwerp station.

According to Bart Van Renterghem, UK head of Belgian renewable energy company Enfinity, which installed the panels, it was the perfect way for train operators to cut their carbon footprints as they could not use the space for any other activity of economic value. The solar power project could also be delivered within a year as it did not attract the protests that wind power does.

The company had also proposed a couple of projects around London with train operators and water utilities, but these have now been put on hold. This, he added, was due to the UK government's controversial review of subsidies for large-scale solar power projects, which would lower the returns available.

According to the UK government, solar technology was too expensive, but Van Renterghem said the cost of cells had halved in the last two to three years thanks to economies of scale in Germany, France and Belgium.