The 3.75MW Cuckmere Community Solar Farm is to directly power the Eastbourne-London mainline railway in a world-first project.
Riding Sunbeams launched its first demonstrator project – a 30kW solar test unit which powered a railway in Aldershot – in 2019. It is now to use the £2,527,500 it secured from the South East Local Enterprise Partnerships' £85 million share of the government’s Getting Building Fund in August 2020 to build and connect the Cuckmere Community Solar Farm working with the Cuckmere Community Solar organisation.
The solar farm is to power the railway through a private-wire direct connection, and will be the world’s first MW scale renewable solar plant to directly power a railway. Whilst it was granted planning permission in 2017, it struggled to find a workable business model, according to Riding Sunbeams. Its connection to the rail track provides it with a route to market, ensuring its future viability and a “replicable business model that subsequent groups can benefit from”.
Alister Scott, chair of Cuckmere Community Solar, said the organisation is "very pleased that this government funding will allow us to get the solar farm built at last", adding that by connecting community-owned sites 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”.
To secure the funding Riding Sunbeams had to demonstrate that building the solar farm would provide key local and national benefits, showing how up to 40 green jobs would be created over the project's 25 year lifetime, the resilience of the local electricity network would be boosted and project annual carbon savings of over 820 tonnes could be achieved.
Ollie Pendered, executive director of Riding Sunbeams, said that the organisation’s vision is to “power trains with commercially priced and unsubsidised energy with a positive social impact” and that securing the Getting Building Fund grant is a “huge win”.
The solar farm – which is located in Berwick, north of the Eastbourne-London mainline railway - is expected to start supplying power to the local railway network by March 2022. After completion, Cuckmere Community Solar will launch an investment offer so the project can be owned by local community members and rail commuters who use the network.