Solar Canopy Transforms Old Railway Bridge Into London's Newest Landmark

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Photos: Network Rail.

As a first-of-it’s-kind scheme to help keep hundreds of flats toasty during the winter using waste heat harvested from the Tube gains momentum, another emissions-slashing project involving London's vast transport system finally wraps up at Blackfriars Station, a major transportation hub (originally) situated along the north bank of the River Thames that includes both Underground and mainline rail service. And it’s a project that, for those familiar with the landscape of the Thames and the over two dozen bridges of all shapes and sizes that criss-cross it within London proper, is hard to miss.

Not to be confused with the Blackfriars Bridge for foot and auto traffic that runs parallel alongside it, Blackfriars Railway Bridge (formerly St. Paul's Bridge) is now crowned with 4,400 fixed photovoltaic panels covering a total area of over 19,600-square-feet — roughly the size of of 23 tennis courts. The hugely ambitious project, part of a larger redevelopment of Blackfriars Station that kicked off in 2009, is now one of only two solar bridges in the world, the other being the smaller Kurilpa Footbridge in Brisbane, Australia.

With an estimated output of 1.1 MWp (megawatt peak), the massive solar canopy covering the Victorian-era bridge is expected to generate in the ballpark of 900,000 kWh of electricity annually which is a little over half the amount of juice required to power the bustling, expanded station. If, theoretically, the electricity produced by the solar bridge wasn't used to power Blackfriars Station, it could provide electricity to 333 homes year round.

The array, installed by London-headquartered firm Solarcentury, is expected to slash Blackfriars Station’s annual carbon emissions by an impressive 563 tons which is roughly the equivalent of zapping 89,000 (average) car trips.

Obviously, installing thousands of solar panels above a construction site above an operational rail line above a built-in-1886 bridge was a complex feat of engineering for Solarcentury. “We had different sections of roof available at different times to fit in with this complicated jigsaw of getting everything up and going," explains Gavin Roberts, Solarcentury's senior project manager.

In addition to partially powering the new Blackfriars Station itself — completed a little over a year ahead of the solar roof, the station now sits atop the bridge with entrances on both sides of the Thames and, as such, is the only railway station in London with platforms that span the width of the river — and saving Network Rail a bundle of cash in the process, the solar bridge will function as a rather dramatic advertisement of sorts for London Mayor Boris Johnson’s overall scheme to slash the city’s emissions by 60 percent while producing 25 percent of the city's energy from local, secondary sources by the year 2025.

Explains David Statham, managing director of First Capital Connect, the operator of Blackfriars Station: “Electric trains are already the greenest form of public transport — this roof gives our passengers an even more sustainable journey. The distinctive roof has also turned our station into an iconic landmark visible for miles along the River Thames."

During last month’s ribbon cutting ceremony of the rubberneck-inducing roof, commuters traveling in and out of Blackfriars Station were treated to a free “cuppa” drawn from a 10-foot-tall teacup — Britain’s largest, apparently — created to symbolize the nearly 80,000 cups of tea that can be brewed per day using clean, renewable electricity drawn from the PV-clad roof of Blackfriars Railway Bridge.

That’s a whole lot of Typhoo.

The massive overhaul of Blackfriars Station and the renovation of its Underground stop, is part of Network Rail’s £6.5 billion Thameslink Programme to increase capacity on central London’s north-south rail corridor, which just happens to be the busiest stretch of railway in all of Europe. Next up? An even larger overhaul on the southern bank of the Thames at one of the oldest railway stations in the world, London Bridge Station. The near-rebuilding of that station is projected to be completed in 2018.

Via [The Guardian]