Five years after work on this ambitious project commenced, the world’s biggest solar bridge has been completed at Blackfriars station in London.

Built in 1886, the Victorian bridge is the foundation for the new Blackfriars station, which Network Rail has been upgrading to cater for more passengers and an improved train service.

The location of the bridge and its 6,000 square metre roof space made it ideal for the placement of solar panels. The fact that the bridge is a fixed structure ensures the panels will generate renewable energy well into the future.

An impressive 4,400 photovoltaic panels sit on top of the original Victorian structure, which crosses the River Thames, and will reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes per year (equivalent to 89,000 average car journeys) while also providing the station with half of the energy it needs to operate.

The solar panels will generate an estimated 900,000kWh of electricity each year and produces enough energy per day to make almost 80,000 cups of tea.

The Sanyo HIT (Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer) solar cells are made of thin mono-crystalline silicon wafer and ultra-thin amorphous silicon layers. As they contain no moving parts, they are also noise-free.

Its makers claim that the cells are 100 per cent free of emissions. Their compact size – they are just 1,580 millimetres high, 798 millimetres wide and 35 millimetres deep with a weight of 15 kilograms – also means they occupy less space than conventional crystalline silicon cells.

Anti-reflecting glass improves the generation of electricity in the morning and evening, reducing wastage of sunlight by controlling the scattering of the light.

In addition to solar panels, other energy saving measures at the new station will include rain harvesting systems and sun pipes for natural lighting.

“The Victorian rail bridge at Blackfriars is part of our railway history. Constructed in the age of steam, we’re bringing it bang up to date with twenty first century solar technology to create an iconic station for the city,” said Lindsay Vamplew, Network Rail’s project director for Blackfriars.

London-based Solar Century engineered the project and installed the solar panels on the bridge. The co-operative worked in coordination with the upgrade project coordinators Jacobs Engineering on the design, while the Department for Transport’s safety and environment fund financed the solar panels.

“Blackfriars solar bridge is an architectural gem, a truly iconic installation and a fantastic addition to the skyline of the greatest city in the world.  I congratulate everyone involved in making it happen,” said UK Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker at the project’s launch.

He also repeated his recent call for a boost to the roll-out of “mid-size” roof-top solar in 2014, and promised early government action to help to deliver that.

The bridge is the largest and only the third of its kind in the world.

The world’s first and second solar bridges were both built in Brisbane, Australia.

The Eleanor Schonell Bridge, better known as the Green Bridge, opened in 2006 and was also the first bridge in Australia designed exclusively for buses, cyclists and pedestrians. The Kurilpa Footbridge followed in 2009.