This UK Train is on the Right Track

Riding Sunbeams is changing the way electric trains run.

Dec 27, 2020
This UK Train is on the Right Track | Riding Sunbeams is changing the way electric trains run.

Riding Sunbeams seems like a good title for some futuristic mode of travel and not the name of a social enterprise that is changing the way electric trains are powered in the UK. The company has a funny name but a serious mission to decarbonize railroads by using the power of the sun. Now, it’s time for the country to hop-on-board the solar express.

Solar power will be used to power a main railroad line going from the Eastbourne – a southern seaside town –  to London beginning in 2022, according to Reuters. “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,” the company’s executive director Ollie Pendered told Reuters.

Riding Sunbeams, a joint project between the climate charity Possible and Community Energy South, an umbrella organization for community groups in Southeast England, will use a 2.5-million-pound ($3.34 million) government grant from the Getting Building fund to build a community-owned solar field. Once the 3.75-megawatt Cuckmere Community solar farm in East Sussex is completed, the company said it will be turned over to the local community and the commuters who ride the trains.

Renewable energy is already being used to power some of the country’s network of trains and solar powered electricity will go a long way for Britain to become net-zero emissions. Research from Riding Sunbeams and energy experts from Imperial College found that solar traction could provide up to 10 percent of the electricity used to power the UK’s electrified train routes every year according to the social enterprise’s website.

A pilot program was run in Aldershot in 2019 that proved that the technology worked when for the first time, solar panels were used to power the electric railroad lines that are owned by Network Rail. “To connect our first live demonstrator site at Aldershot we built a highly collaborative relationship with Network Rail to demonstrate that we could meet the rightly stringent technical and safety standards necessary for them to even consider connection to their network,” Riding Sunbeam’s first CEO Ivan Stone told Positive News. That was the beginning of the collaboration.

The solar field plan is the perfect match between the UK’s electrification of railroads and community solar projects that are being launched by green energy enthusiasts according to Positive News. That’s because these projects need to sell their power directly to a user who has a high demand for power. And since the railways are the UK’s largest single user of electricity, it is a perfect fit.

The Cuckmere Community solar farm is only the first step in Riding Sunbeams mission to decarbonize the railroads and Stone sees it as a stepping stone. He said that the company is also looking at powering trains in Wales through a combination of community-owned solar, wind farms, and battery plants. It’s time for other countries to get all aboard the green-powered express.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.