Solar plant in Granada, Spain (illustrative image)

Renfe aims to become more energy independent by building solar plants

Solar plant in Granada, Spain (illustrative image)

Spanish railway operator Renfe plans to build a 20 MW solar panel facility to power its trains, after which many will follow. Most of the generated electricity will be used for train traction, with any excess power being sold on the market. 

Renfe will invest almost 27 million euros in the construction of the plant, which will be located in the town of Olmedo (Valladolid), close to the electric power substation of railway manager Adif that feeds the northern high-speed corridor from Madrid to Valladolid and on to northern Spain. Adif approved a rule so that Renfe, Ouigo and Iryo can build their own renewable plants and connect them to the substations of the railway network

The first plant in Olmedo will serve as a pilot project before the construction of 34 plants in total, with an investment of 350 million euros throughout Spain. Renfe hired Spanish company Magtel for the design, construction and development of the projects. In the pilot project, the level of self-consumption will be analysed. This is expected to be high due to the fact that the energy generation curves of a solar plant are similar to the traction energy consumption curve of the Renfe trains, which mostly run during the day. The initial duration of the pilot project is estimated at about five years.

The project additionally contemplates the sale of the surplus to the electricity market, which would generate additional income for the company. Last year, railway operator saw a massive jump in energy costs due to the energy crisis. The company says it seeks to achieve greater independence in the electricity supply, by generating more own electricity with solar panels. Renfe is also going to deploy energy storage technology to use it during the hours of the day with lower solar production, according to Magtel.

Energy consumption

While Renfe does mention how much the solar plants will produce, the company gives no indication of how much of its total energy consumption this covers. With this first solar plant, the operator will be equipped with an electrical energy generation facility for self-consumption with a power of about 20 MW.

Megawatts (MW) are a unit of measurement to describe the rate at which electricity is being produced or used at a specific moment. The actual yearly electricity production of a solar plant differs a lot based on the geographic location and the amount of sunshine, which also varies. Renfe’s total electric traction energy consumption in 2020 was 1.84 TWh, according to the 2020 Renfe annual report. This unit is used to express the quantity of energy consumed with the power of one terawatt (one million megawatts) for one hour. In 2019, before the pandemic, the operator consumed 2.46 TWh of electricity.

Since 2019, Renfe Group has only acquired renewable electricity of certified origin. The operator gained a Carbon Neutral certification from Aenor for electric passenger and freight trains in 2023, which guarantees that all Renfe trains are powered by 100% renewable energy. In 2020, Renfe’s consumption represented 1.7 per cent of the total renewable electrical energy generated in Spain, according to the operator, making it the number 1 consumer of renewable energy in the country.

In 2020, 18.8 per cent of Renfe’s traction energy came from diesel, but the operator says this figure will decrease in the future due to the increase in electrification, and the replacement of diesel fuel with cleaner energies naming hydrogen and liquefied gases. Before the pandemic, in 2019, 22,4 per cent of the operator’s energy consumption was diesel fuel.

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Author: Esther Geerts

Former Editor

4 comments op “Renfe aims to become more energy independent by building solar plants”

Long Branch Mike|09.10.23|16:26

Shouldn’t the headline say ‘energy independent’?

Long Branch Mike|09.10.23|16:28

Or solar energy dependent?

Esther Geerts|10.10.23|09:22

Hi, yes indeed it should be energy independent, thanks for pointing that out. It’s now corrected.

Joachim Falkenhagen|25.10.23|22:10

This is probably a stock photo from a decade-old solar installation with 2-axialsolar tracking. Nowadays,solar farms are usually built with fixed installation of modules, and less often with one-axial tracking of the sun.

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