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Green tech start-up wins funding for solar rail demonstrator

It will enable Riding Sunbeams to develop a direct connection between renewable energy generators and electrified rail networks and eventually power a train using green electricity.

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The solar array in the demonstrator project in Aldershot. © Andy Aitchison/Riding Sunbeams
The solar array in the demonstrator project in Aldershot. © Andy Aitchison/Riding Sunbeams

Solar rail company Riding Sunbeams has won funding to develop what it claims is a-first-of-a-kind direct connection between renewable energy generators and electrified rail networks, which run on alternating current (AC) power from overhead lines.

 

It follows a successful demonstration of a direct connection between solar panels and the direct current (DC) third rail traction system in Aldershot last year and will help the company to eventually power an entire train engine directly with clean, green electricity for the first time.

 

 

Green tech start-up

 

Riding Sunbeams is a green tech start-up founded by climate charity Possible and Community Energy South.

 

Two-thirds of the UK’s existing electrified routes – and all plans for new rail electrification in the UK – use AC overhead lines to power trains, and most of the electrified train lines around the world also use this technology.

 

By developing a direct connection between renewables and AC rail networks, the Riding Sunbeams team will be able to apply its low-cost, low-carbon traction supply model to the majority of electrified routes in the UK and around the world.

 

“This project is a huge step forward for our mission to develop and connect unsubsidised, direct-wire renewable generation and energy storage to power British trains, with significant social impact for line-side communities,” said Alex Byford, chief technology officer at Riding Sunbeams.

“This project is a huge step forward for our mission to develop and connect unsubsidised, direct-wire renewable generation and energy storage to power British trains”

He added: “Our latest project will showcase our ability to adapt existing technologies to directly power AC rail networks with clean, green energy and also help to support low-cost electrification of some of the most challenging remaining diesel powered lines.”

 

The technology needed to provide low cost power conversion from renewables to AC rail traction systems does not yet exist. The team’s Daybreak demonstrator will repurpose existing technology already being used on UK rail networks for other purposes to create a new device to provide the required power conversion.

 

The £400,000 grant from the Department for Transport and InnovateUK’s First Of A Kind 2020 programme will enable the team to procure the required equipment and modify it over the next nine months. Riding Sunbeams will then install a solar array coupled with line-side storage at Quinton Rail Technology Centre at Long Marston and power an entire train engine directly with clean, green electricity for the first time.

 

Riding Sunbeams have formed a consortium with Network Rail, Angel Trains, Turbo Power Systems, the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education and Ricardo Power & Environment to deliver the project.

 

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