Photovoltaics and self-consumption in public transport

Energy strategy 2050 in public transport – ESPT 2050

«Photovoltaic systems on buildings, platform roofs and workplaces of public transport companies have the potential to replace their fuel consumption.» Dr. Peter Füglistaler, Director of the Federal Office of Transport

Public transport is very energy efficient: For the same transport performance, it requires only one third of the energy of motorised individual transport. In freight transport this difference is as much as a factor of ten. However, in order to maintain its environmental advantage, public transport needs to further increase the share of renewable energy.

But traffic is increasing and, at the same time, bus companies have to switch to electricity. Photovoltaics (PV) offer all public transport companies (TC) the opportunity to take their energy supply largely into their own hands. It is beneficial to the economic efficiency of such systems if the majority of electricity generated is consumed at the same time, i.e. a high level of self-consumption is achieved. The Federal Office of Transport (FOT) has issued a new guideline to help TCs make use of this potential. Among other things, the following topics are addressed in this guideline:

  • Potential for PV, energy yield and self-consumption
  • Versatile application possibilities of PV in public transport, illustrated with examples
  • Overcoming possible hurdles and financing

Some highlights from the guideline are presented on this website.

A one squaremetre solar panel covers the annual power requirement of around 2,500 passenger kilometres by train.

Energy from your own roof

Public transport in Switzerland is very well developed and therefore requires a large amount of energy. The electricity consumption of all transport companies is about 2.7 TWh. In addition, 120 million litres of diesel are consumed. If the entire public transport system is to be operated in a carbon neutral manner in the future, it will require around 3.5 TWh of electricity, of which around 2 TWh is already being produced by SBB’s hydroelectric power stations. This already represents almost 60 per cent of the total energy consumption of the transport companies. The production of the remaining 1.5 TWh from solar energy would require an area of PV panels of about 7,500,000 m², which corresponds to about 1 m² per inhabitant in Switzerland. Projections from various TCs show that they could generate around 20–30 per cent of their electricity requirements on their own buildings. Solar energy can therefore make an important contribution to replacing nonrenewable energy in public transport. Several plants are already in operation (see project examples in the guide).

The potential for solar power in Switzerland’s building stock is 67 TWh per year, exceeding current Swiss electricity consumption by 10 per cent.

PV system segments in public transport

Depending on the use of a building or infrastructure, the investment opportunities and approval procedures for public transport companies change. The guide addresses the following possible uses :

  • Real estate
  • Railway technology
  • Infrastructure

Financing and possible obstacles

Financing/funding: At the federal level, PV systems (including those of TCs) are subsidised with a one-off payment, which covers around 25 % of the investment costs. Applications should be sent to the Pronovo funding office. A PV system typically pays for itself in 15 to 20 years. Thereafter it becomes a profitable investment until the end of its service life of well over 25 years.

Approvals: A distinction must be made between the procedure under railway law and that under municipal law. According to EBG Art. 18, the decisive factor is whether the building or installation ‘serves entirely or predominantly the construction and operation’. In the guide, you will find a decision tree for easy determination of the required approvals.

Self-consumption is the key to economic efficiency. It refers to the electricity produced and consumed at the same location. For railway companies, direct feeding into the overhead contact lines would be particularly advantageous. However, there are only a few pilot projects for this use (e.g. SBB Zurich-Seebach). In most cases, the electricity is used for railway technology, IT infrastructure, lighting, ticket machines, etc. However, solar electricity can also be sold within the framework of a ‘collective self-consumption project’ (CSC) or by feeding it into the grid.

How can we support TCs to become climate neutral?

  • Local energy supply companies pay a fair, lon g-term guaranteed return rate for solar electricity, which cannot be used by the TC for its selfconsumption.
  • Municipal building authorities support projects for the use of solar energy on railway and bus buildings with their approval procedures. This is especially true when PV systems are caref ully integrated into his torical buildings.
  • Public TC financial backers (e.g. transport associations, cantons) help them finance PV systems, although the payback period is oftentimes at least 15 years.
  • Federal, cantonal and municipal administrations offer support for collective self-consumption projects (CSC): Public buildings share photovoltaics with neighbouring buildings and public transport infrastructure.

More information

More information from the guideline on the topics of sustainability, economic efficiency and overcoming the hurdles to solar energy can be found under the following links:

Further information on the ESPT 2050 programme from the Federal Government can be found here:

Are you interested in more technical details about the use of solar energy at TCs? Then the following background report will help you:


If you have any questions about the project, please do not hesitate to reach out to:

Head of programme
Dr. Tristan Chevroulet
Programme Manager Energy Strategy in public transport, FOT, Tel +41 58 465 47 41

Editorial team
David Stickelberger
Managing Director Swissolar, Tel +41 44 250 88 34