European transport infrastructure as a solar photovoltaic energy hub

G. Kakoulaki, S. Szabo, F. Fahl F, N. Taylor, A. Gracia-Amillo, R. Kenny, G. Ulpiani, A. Chatzipanagi, K. Gkoumas, A. Jäger-Waldau

The urgency of meeting climate targets, increasing land use competition and falling solar photovoltaic (PV) energy costs have created unprecedented opportunities for innovative deployment options. This study uses geospatial data processing to quantify the potential for large-scale deployment of vertical solar panels along Europe’s major roads and railways. Factors such as geography, environmental constraints, land use limitations, and techno-economic parameters, were carefully considered.

An economic assessment is provided to take account of the costs and benefits and technical feasibility of the proposed PV system as compared to the fossil-fuel based transport. The findings reveal a potential PV capacity of 403 GWp within the European Union (EU). This is the equivalent to 55% of the EU’s total solar PV capacity target set for 2030. Using bifacial PV modules, these systems could generate 391 TWh (terawatt hours) of clean electricity annually. Considering only railway lines, the total annual PV electricity output could potentially reach 250% of the current annual electricity consumption of the EU railway network.

Additionally, the electricity generated from PV installations alongside roads would not only be cost-effective in electricity markets but also serve as a viable alternative to fossil fuels in transportation. Tapping solar PV energy along transport infrastructure can therefore significantly contribute to the EU’s energy transition.

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