The chairman of the Greater Brighton City Region today welcomed investment in the world’s first solar energy plant for powering railways.

Riding Sunbeams, the world-leading solar rail pioneer, has been awarded £2,527,500 from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership as part of the government’s new Getting Building Fund.

The funds will be used to build and connect the world’s first renewable solar energy plant directly powering the railways in East Sussex.

The project that will be financed by the grant is located in Berwick, north of the Eastbourne to London via Lewes mainline railway which will be powered by the energy it generates.

With the funds now secured, the solar farm is expected to be supplying power to the local railway network by March 2022. After completion, Cuckmere Community Solar will launch an investment offer so that the project can be owned by local community members and rail commuters who use the network.

Today chairman of the Greater Brighton City Region, Cllr Daniel Humphreys, said he was delighted that the solar plan had now received backing. Greater Brighton has just launched its environmental programme, GB10, which makes 10 pledges on action to help tackling climate change and includes commitments to solar power energy. The Riding Sunbeams project was one of those backed by Greater Brighton under the programme.

Cllr Humphreys said:

“People talk about innovation quite a lot but this is truly that. The world’s first directly solar-powered trains will be running through our Region thanks to this fantastic scheme. I want to congratulate Riding Sunbeams, Network Rail and their partners for bringing this successful scheme to fruition.”

Ollie Pendered, Executive Director of Riding Sunbeams, said:

“Our vision is to power trains with commercially priced and unsubsidised renewable energy with a positive social impact. 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 solar farm was granted planning consent in 2017, but like many community energy projects up and down the country it has been struggling to find a business model that works, given that solar energy has not been economic without subsidy. The connection to the rail track therefore provides an important route to market for the project, ensuring its future viability and a replicable business model that subsequent groups can benefit from.

In order to qualify for the government grant, Riding Sunbeams had to demonstrate that building the connection would provide key local and national benefits including annual carbon projected savings of over 820 tonnes per year and social and financial benefits for the local community arising from community ownership.

Network Rail is the single biggest user of electricity in the UK. The success of this project will enable them to procure green electricity at scale and a competitive price, while also creating social value for the communities they serve through better use of their assets.

For more information on the solar-powered train project see the: Riding Sunbeams website.

For information on the GB10 see the GB10 Pledges page.