By Paul Homewood
Who let the loonies out?
Riding Sunbeams project aims to shuttle power from a community solar plant to the London to Eastbourne railway line
Plans to run a stretch of railway line in southern England on solar power have taken a major step forward, after the social enterprise behind the pioneering project snapped up £2.5m of government funding.
The Riding Sunbeams project, developed by climate charity Possible and Community Energy South, wants to make the London to Eastbourne mainline the world’s first railway directly powered by solar electricity.
The developers of the scheme said that the fresh investment boost, awarded from the government’s Getting Building Fund, would go towards building a 3.75MW community solar project in Berwick, East Sussex, that would be subsequently connected to the railway.
It comes after trials managed by Riding Sunbeams and Network Rail last year demonstrated the feasibility of piping electricity generated by solar power directly to lineside equipment, bypassing the main grid.
Riding Sunbeams executive director Ollie Pendered celebrated the funding boost, stressing the project could accelerate the decarbonisation of the UK’s railways by proving the commercial viability of solar-powered train lines. "It will enable us to work together to prove that MW-scale solar can be directly connected to the railways and open up the market for region-wide solar connections," he said. "It’s a fantastic opportunity to show the UK rail sector that commercial innovation can help power us all to the zero carbon future we need."
Riding Sunbeams is in talks with Transport for Wales and Transport for London about rolling out of similar schemes elsewhere in the country, it said.
The funding announcement has given a fresh lease of life to the Cuckmere Community Solar project, which received planning permission in 2017 but had failed to get off the ground after the government’s Feed-in Tariff subsidy scheme for smaller scale renewables projects was axed. "We’re very pleased that this government funding will allow us to get the solar farm built at last," said Cuckmere Community Solar Dr Alister Scott.
The solar plant is now expected to be finished by March 2022, when rail commuters and local community members will be offered the chance to invest in the project, according to the partners.
"By connecting community-owned renewable energy sites like Cuckmere Community Solar to the rail network, Riding Sunbeams can inspire rail users to travel in a really low carbon way with a genuine sense of ownership over the solution," Dr Scott added. "This is a really important next stage on that journey."
Note that the solar project failed to get off the ground, after FIT subsidies were withdrawn, which hardly says much for its viability.
Over 10 years, the project could generate about 32,000 MWh, making the £2.5m grant equivalent to £78/MWh.
But what happens at night? Are commuters expected to wait till dawn for a train to arrive?
Of course not. The railway will still be powered by reliable power supplied from the grid, meaning that Riding Sunbeams is just another highly expensive bit of green virtue signalling.
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November 23, 2020 at 04:39AM