An ambitious project led by Network Rail and Colas Rail has used innovative solar lighting and power generation to prove the viability of a sustainable ‘Site of the Future’, achieving 97 per cent diesel-free operation in support of a major rail renewal project at Llanwern, South Wales…

The joint Network Rail and Colas Rail initiative used solar and battery technologies from Prolectric Ltd instead of diesel generators to save 6,000 litres of fuel, and more than 15 tonnes of CO2 during a 14-day project centred around a 72-hour possession over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend.

The results are being viewed as a significant achievement that marks an environmental milestone towards clean, carbon-free off-grid working, in support of Network Rail’s CP6 target to reduce non-traction energy consumption by almost 20 per cent and carbon emissions by 25 per cent.

Ryan Ballinger, Production Manager for Colas Rail, said: ‘A 97 per cent diesel reduction at the first attempt is a great achievement. Saving close to 6,000 litres of diesel is the same as driving a family car at 40 mpg twice around the circumference of the world.

‘It’s also clear where we have learnt the lessons from Llanwern so we can aim to close that small gap. We really want to get to that one hundred per cent fuel-free figure by the time of our next challenge, planned for a rail renewal project later in the summer.

‘There’s no doubt these technologies are going to be a complete gamechanger and we need to push on to get to a place where using this type of technology is just business as usual.’

Power and light

Prolectric’s clean, silent solar lighting and power generation technologies were used across the site covering more than 21-acres. This included access roads, the welfare cabin area, car parking and the track working area itself, where the London to Cardiff mainline meets the Llanwern steelworks spur, near Newport. The set-up and core works spanned a period of around 14 days leading up to and following 72-hour possession, with more than 70 rail staff employed on site.

Two 25kW Solatainer® solar generators replaced conventional diesel generators providing light and heat for seven welfare cabins, including site offices, a canteen, toilets and a drying room. The Solatainer is modelled on a standard 20ft shipping container with an array of photovoltaic solar panels charging on-board lithium ion batteries.

A total of 21 Prolectric ProLightTM solar tower lights illuminated the site compound, car parking and work preparation areas, as well as being deployed on the trackside, where 200 metres of Prolectric ProTrack battery-powered link lighting was also used. Prolectric ProTempTM column streetlights were positioned along the access road to the site.

Range of solar applications

It was just as important to explore and extend the range of applications and it was possible to demonstrate the versatility of using portable lithium battery packs recharged as necessary from the solar generators, for a variety of uses.

An innovative new solar-powered Gate Guardian system, an idea developed as part of the Colas Rail safety challenge, used solar power and light to operate a 24-hour PIR-operated security camera system that plays a recorded message reminding users to close the gate, and saves footage for later review.

In addition to the 200 metres of ProTrack lithium battery link lighting, five APPS dust suppression systems were powered for the first time over the weekend using Prolectric’s off-grid rechargeable battery technology.

The ProTrack batteries were also used to power two trackside water cooler drinking stations, a sustainable initiative that has helped the Network Rail and Colas Rail team to ban the use of disposable plastic water bottles and polystyrene cups; all staff are issued with refillable water bottles and thermos flasks.

It was also possible to use the ProTrack batteries to provide power to the point motors so the S&T engineers could swing the points during set up.

Silent and fume free

Using diesel generators to support rail renewal work has been the only option for reliable off-grid power. Now viable solar technologies are being seen as a vital contribution to non-traction carbon targets, as well as to reduce the noise, smell and air pollution from diesel exhausts, especially next to residential areas.

The first thing that staff and visitors noticed at the Llanwern compound was how quiet it was, compared to the usual continual background hum of diesel generators.

‘The environmental impact of running diesel generators all day on a major worksite like Llanwern is absolutely huge’ comments Ballinger. ‘It’s not just about carbon emissions; our lineside neighbours are very important to us. By using solar harvesting, we’re not polluting their environment with unwelcome fumes and noise.’

Partnership and collaboration

The Llanwern Site of the Future project is the culmination of determined development work driven by the Network Rail and Colas Rail team to adapt and refine solar and renewable technologies for the rail industry, with an aspiration to achieve diesel-free operation as standard.

Ryan Ballinger continues: ‘I first challenged my depot a year and a half ago to move towards being more sustainable and diesel-free. Since then, we have worked closely to drive the development of suitable on-site solar tower lights and walking lights. Now at Llanwern we have been able to add solar generators for the first time and moving forward we want to add smaller plant and tools such disk saws and band saws.’

In particular, the Network Rail and Colas Rail team has been working with Prolectric to refine the technologies for rail use and innovate a smaller solar tower light with similar dimensions to a standard diesel generator that can be deployed on the Cess.

Cost savings and collaboration

The Llanwern project not only provided feedback to help refine the solar and battery technologies, but also identified energy-efficiency initiatives that can contribute to one hundred per cent diesel-free operation. For example, using more energy-saving heaters, encouraging more energy-conscious behaviour among staff, and exploring simple innovations such as fitting thermostats and sensors that switch heaters off when doors are left open.

The 6,000-litre diesel saving reduced fuel costs for the Llanwern project by £3,870, as well as making additional savings in labour costs by eliminating the need for refuelling. To operate a diesel generator requires at least one person to be employed on each shift to be responsible for refuelling, adding manpower costs as well as the potential for spills.

‘Across the construction industry, contractors have to be cost driven. To succeed, a sustainable technology must be at least comparable in cost. We’ve worked hard to ensure our solar light and power technologies are no more expensive to the contractor than conventional diesel would be’ Chris Williams, Managing Director of Prolectric, says.

‘This has been very much a collaborative process with Network Rail and Colas Rail. The Llanwern initiative has proved that diesel-free operation is possible and it was a vital learning experience, so we can move eliminate the use of any diesel for lighting and welfare on future projects.’

Working in close collaboration with rail partners, Prolectric expects further advances in solar and battery technology in future to drive forward the capabilities of off-grid solar light and power generation so it continues to become more powerful, compact and versatile.

About Prolectric

Prolectric us the UK’s fast-growing manufacturer and expert provider of temporary solar lighting and off-grid power, based in Clevedon, Somerset.

The Solatainer is the UK’s first autonomous solar-powered off-grid generator and has a proven track record in use at more than 50 sites in the rail and construction sectors nationwide.

Prolectric’s solar lighting has given the industry the first fully-viable alternative to diesel tower lighting on construction and infrastructure projects.

The popularity of Prolectric’s temporary lighting range, including the ProLightTM Solar Lighting Tower, ProTempTM Solar Lighting Column and ProTrackTM link lighting system, has powered the company’s rapid expansion.  Temporary and permanent solutions are available for purchase, rental or cross-hire.