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Solar rail pioneer receives first commercial funding

Riding Sunbeams will use the investment to develop a pipeline of new renewable energy projects in South East England and the Valleys in South Wales.

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Installation of the solar panels for the project. Copyright: Andy Aitchison/1010 Climate Action
Installation of the solar panels for the project. Copyright: Andy Aitchison/1010 Climate Action

Solar rail start-up Riding Sunbeams has secured its first commercial funding from Thrive Renewables and Friends Provident Foundation.

 

Founded by climate charity Possible and Community Energy South, Riding Sunbeams will use the investment to develop a pipeline of new renewable energy projects in South East England and the Valleys in South Wales.

 

Minority shareholding

 

In exchange, the investors will receive a minority shareholding in the business and play an active role in governance.

 

The new working capital will enable Riding Sunbeams to provide a commercial route to market for community energy groups looking for new projects to develop and connect them to regional rail network operators like Network Rail which will pay them a fair price for their power.

 

According to Riding Sunbeams, this will enable rail network operators to source competitively priced green electricity at the same time as supporting local communities, as well as the UK’s efforts to achieve a net zero economy.

 

Riding Sunbeams hopes to demonstrate a new, fairer, greener way to do business and embody how a just transition is possible by bringing together charities, communities, corporates, and government to decarbonise and power the rail network.

“Harnessing innovation like this will be crucial to modernising the railway and making journeys greener and cleaner”

With its model it intends to boost the community energy sector and overcome existing barriers like grid constraints and energy price volatility, to ensure local people benefit from projects in their neighbourhood. Community groups and developers with eligible projects are being encouraged to get in touch with the organisation.

 

“We are delighted that both Thrive and the Friends Provident Foundation have chosen to invest in Riding Sunbeams. This reflects enormous confidence in our purpose to deliver competitively priced, unsubsidised low carbon energy directly to the rail network, with a clear commitment to community ownership,” said Ivan Stone, CEO of Riding Sunbeams.

 

“The investment will accelerate our already well-advanced technical development and establish the appropriate commercial framework with rail system operators for them to take advantage of these opportunities as soon as possible.”

 

Following this funding agreement, the company formally incorporated a commitment to a “just transition” in its legal rules of governance, making it the first UK company to do this. This means that any decision taken by the social enterprise will be made in line with the principles of a just transition.

 

Electrified rail networks

 

The team proved the technical concept of powering railways directly by solar power with its First Light demonstrator project in Aldershot last year. Riding Sunbeams is currently leading another first-of-its-kind project funded by Innovate UK and the Department for Transport, which aims to power electrified rail networks which run on alternating current (AC) power from overhead lines.

 

“It is fantastic to see pioneering projects that we have supported through our first of a kind competition progressing their plans to decarbonise our railways. Harnessing innovation like this will be crucial to modernising the railway and making journeys greener and cleaner, and I welcome this vision becoming one step closer to reality,” added Chris Heaton-Harris, rail minister.

 

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