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£2.5M Wasted On Solar Powered Railway

November 23, 2020

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.

  1. ThinkingScientist permalink
    November 23, 2020 10:48 am

    What on Earth is “piping electricity”?

    People too stupid to see that subsidies are not a viable basis for power generation.

    Riding Sunbeams? Pah! They might as well be Harnessing Unicorn Farts.

    • Henning Nielsen permalink
      November 23, 2020 8:27 pm

      Don’t you know that? The electricity is in a tube, you see, and it sort of pipes its way from the sun to the commuter train. That’s how they do it, and of course, the sun being very high up -most of the day- there is a good downwards flow of “suntricity”. As for “Harnessing Unicorn Farts”, that source of energy is reserved for St. Greta, as her prime motive power.

  2. Penda100 permalink
    November 23, 2020 10:49 am

    Context: Lemuel Gulliver visits the land of Balnibarbi, where people insist on doing everything in an impractical fashion. Those few who wish to use common sense in their activities are forced by social and political pressure to conform to the impractical. The epitome of the attitudes of the people of the land is found in the Grand Academy at the capital city of Lagado. At the academy Gulliver sees all sorts of experimentation going on. The most striking aspect of the projects is their absurdity, the second is that they all require a constant flow of money, like modern research and development projects. Swift is not satirizing only general impracticality; he is also hitting some of the contemporary follies of the British Royal Academy, whose membership sometimes indulged in activities that Swift, at least, did not approve. The first projector Gulliver meets at the Grand Academy of Lagado is typical of them all: source e.notes
    Seems some things never change. But when we get sunbeams from cucumbers the railway will run 24/7.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      November 23, 2020 12:38 pm

      Heath Robinson

    • Henning Nielsen permalink
      November 23, 2020 8:35 pm

      A modern version is in the Asterix cartoon, where a pro-Roman big bully chieftain -his house sports the motto “Rome, sweet Rome- tells his underlings to build an aquaduct to the village.
      “But why? The stream runs right through the village.”
      “Then we’ll divert it! I want a real Roman aquaduct right here, understood? And besides, you don’t question an order” (smack)

  3. Ian Magness permalink
    November 23, 2020 10:51 am

    Riding Sunbeams – great title for a fantasy project. Almost as good as “Net Zero” which will describe that project’s end-achievement. Just how many square miles of solar panels (and batteries for the 15+ hours per day that no power is generated) would be needed to power vast tonnages of rolling stock in a region? Yet another farce that lends itself to the phrase “you couldn’t make this up”. And you know full well that the £2.5m won’t even cover the consultancy fees so watch out for a multiple of this figure being demanded.
    Beam me up (Hot) Scotty.

  4. November 23, 2020 10:53 am

    When planning permission was granted, did nobody stop to ask what happens to the trains when the sunbeams aren’t there? The stupidity is rampant and getting worse.

  5. cajwbroomhill permalink
    November 23, 2020 10:54 am

    Sack those officials responsible for the grant.
    They could then have treatment for advanced dementia and/or corruption.

  6. Bertie permalink
    November 23, 2020 11:05 am

    The London-Eastbourne service does not have a mainline to itself. It covers the London-Brighton line for most of its journey, before branching off after Wivelsfield. It must be only that latter portion that they are talking about as it passes through Lewes.
    So bonkers in more ways than one!

  7. Joe Public permalink
    November 23, 2020 11:06 am

    Riding Sunbeams must publish its trains’ operating timetable.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      November 23, 2020 1:49 pm

      A Sunbeam you can ride

      • Henning Nielsen permalink
        November 23, 2020 8:39 pm

        How dare you?!

  8. GeoffB permalink
    November 23, 2020 11:24 am

    If it is connected to the grid (as it must be for phase synchronisation) then its really just a standard solar panel array connected to the grid, The railway bit is just Fairy Dust, probably to get the grant. I can understand using Solar Panels in deserts. reason they are deserts, loads of sunshine and no rain (so no clouds). Mojave desert makes some sense, its covered in solar panels and has plenty of demand from California and Las Vegas, but England, too far north and loads of cloud cover, just does not make any sense.

    • StephenP permalink
      November 23, 2020 1:10 pm

      The big problem with solar panels in a desert is the dust which needs to be washed off the panels at regular intervals.
      This can take a surprisingly large amount of water which I believe is in short supply in deserts.

    • Paul H permalink
      November 23, 2020 1:42 pm

      See Michael Moore’s ‘A Planet Fit For Humans’ regarding deserts and solar panels. In a nutshell, they don’t work. Moore’s film explains why. The ecological destruction amongst other things is enough to make you weep. Basically, the deserts are not sterile land masses with nothing going on, they have abundant flora and fauns systems, hundreds of years in the forming. The film shows the horrible carnage left behind when the solar panels are removed because they basically don’t work.

  9. Alan Keith permalink
    November 23, 2020 11:57 am

    Well, it does say piped direct to the railway, bypassing the main grid. So presumably if the sun goes behind a cloud the trains will come to a halt. After the cloud passes the trains will restart. Timetables will be annotated “subject to sunshine”.

  10. November 23, 2020 2:07 pm

    The – Climate Charity – Possible..


    Possible is 10:10 Climate Action with a new name.. (No pressure video debacle) co founder of 10:10/Possible is Leo Murray, involved of the Solar Railway project..

    Leo Murray, also founded Plane Stupid, Age of Stupid, was the ‘brains’ behind the Trump Blimp in London.. a total career activist, arrested for direct action.

    and most recently was a speaker at the Climate Assembly UK..

    (not that the public involved with that, were told about his background)

  11. bobn permalink
    November 23, 2020 4:48 pm

    One word sums this up.

  12. Nicholas Lewis permalink
    November 23, 2020 5:12 pm

    Good luck with connecting it direct they will spend all the money on testing and getting approvals for something novel. Advice to Sunbeams just connect it to the local grid if your going to waste your time and you won’t lose so much money.

  13. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    November 23, 2020 7:46 pm

    ” . . .to be finished by March 2022, when rail commuters and local community members will be offered the chance to invest in the project, …

    I’m not a rail commuter nor of the local community, but here I am with an open wallet just wishing for a great investment opportunity. The retirement funds do need an upgrade.
    {At this point, I invoke Poe’s Law.}

  14. Devoncamel permalink
    November 23, 2020 9:12 pm

    Virtue signalling has made it to our railway network. Don’t worry folks signal failure is a common occurrence.

  15. Paul Kolk. permalink
    November 24, 2020 9:21 am

    Leaves on the solar panels would be a change from leaves on the line………..

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