Solar bridge points to a bright future

It will cost just over £7m and nothing quite like it has been built in London before. But the most striking feature of the latest addition to the capital’s streetscape is that it will generate enough electricity to power about 300 houses every year.

After years of planning, workers have started to install the first of nearly 100 solar panel “leaves” that will form the roof of the new Blackfriars station that Network Rail is assembling above a Victorian bridge over the Thames.

“It’s absolutely unique. You’ve got a 19th century bridge with a 21st century roof,” said Derry Newman, chief executive of Solarcentury, the London company that helped develop the roof.

He hopes the structure, which will generate about half the station’s power needs, will show solar power can be viable in a country where the sun often struggles to shine.

“It will start to inform people’s opinion that this is part of what the future is and a normal part of where you get electricity,” he said.

The station roof, which is due to be finished next year, will almost certainly be London’s biggest solar array. But Solarcentury and Network Rail think Blackfriars may also be the world’s biggest solar bridge.

Brisbane claims to have the world’s biggest solar powered footbridge, a futuristic structure that opened two years ago and looks like a collection of enormous knitting needles. And thousands of solar panels were put on top of a train tunnel in Belgium earlier this year on the route from Paris to Antwerp.

The Blackfriars roof will have just over 4,400 solar panels, and may not be the last of its kind.

“This is the first time we’ve stuck solar panels on a station roof, so it’s going to provide a lot of information for us,” said Network Rail spokesman David Wilson. “If it’s successful you will see a lot more solar panels on stations in future.”

The Blackfriars project was supported by the Department for Transport’s safety and environment fund, but the private sector is also contributing to the relentless march of renewable energy projects across the country.

On Tuesday, the Little Chef roadside restaurant chain began the roll-out of electric charging points at more than 100 of its car parks, a move it described as the biggest deployment of its type.

The project has been developed with Scottish and Southern Energy, one of the country’s biggest energy companies, and Chargemaster, the Luton-based car charging company.

“This will mean that 90 per cent of the UK will be no further than 30 miles from a Little Chef equipped with an electric vehicle charging point,” the partners said in a statement.

The move comes shortly after Ecotricity, the Stroud-based green energy company, announced it had teamed up for a similar network of charging points with the Welcome Break restaurant chain.

Another Chargemaster project, known as Polar, aims to install 4,000 electric vehicle charging bays in about 100 towns and cities across the UK by the end of 2012.

Only about 800 electric cars were registered in the eight months to the end of August, but the number is expected to balloon as major car makers introduce more models.

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