While billionaire Elon Musk is still in the planning stage of his solar-powered high-speed train called the Hyperloop, Europe’s first train powered entirely by its own solar panels is already carrying tourists between Királyrét and Kismaros. The speed is nowhere near the 1,220 km/h envisioned by Musk, but at least the leisurely 24 kilometres an hour allows travellers to enjoy a picturesque woodland route north of the Danube Bend.
Unlike many lightweight solar vehicles, “Vili”, as it is named, can carry a cabin full of passengers. The prototype was launched recently by Ipoly Forest Company and is covered by more than nine square metres of photovoltaic panels on its roof, which convert solar radiation into electricity.
Vili is pollution-free and doesn’t need a recharging station to keep going. It can generate and store its own energy, overcoming a key problem that has held back widespread use of electric vehicles – their limited range and the need to stop and recharge when the batteries run low.
Ipoly Forest Company spokesman László Lengyel said: “We are using a technology where we collect the solar energy and the electrical engines use this energy. This is the most special thing about it. There are examples around the world where railway vehicles use solar energy but from stations where solar panels are used. The fact that traditional solar panels are installed on top of a moving vehicle, well, this is unique, I think.”
The train also boasts electric recovery brakes, similar to those in Formula 1 racing cars, which recover and store part of the energy spent during braking and use it to propel the train later on, Lengyel said.
Sandor Suranyi, CEO of developers GanzPlan Hungária Kft., in Budapest’s District XIII, said the prototype is designed to be fully autonomous and the technology is ideal for narrow-gauge transportation. “The whole vehicle is one big invention because it doesn’t have any equipment which would pollute this strictly nature-protected area.”
He conceded that problems such as high maintenance costs need to be overcome, but if the figures add up, the engineers hope to build a second, possibly larger, vehicle that would generate interest elsewhere in the world.