Riding Sunbeam’s 30kW solar test unit of around 100 solar panels, switched on in Aldershot. Image: Andy Aitchison/Riding Sunbeams.

The solar powered rail network company Riding Sunbeams has gained its first ever commercial funding from Thrive Renewables and Friends Provident Foundation.

Both will receive minority shareholding in the start-up in exchange for the funding, and will play an active role in governance.

The working capital will allow Riding Sunbeams to develop a pipeline of new renewable energy projects in South East England and the Valleys in South Wales. Additionally, it will be able to use the funding to help to provide a commercial route to market for community energy groups who are looking to develop and connect solar projects to regional rail network operators like Network Rail.

This will allow rail network operators to source competitively priced green electricity, as well as supporting local communities.

Ivan Stone, CEO of Riding Sunbeams, said they were “delighted” that both Thrive and Friends Provident Foundation have chosen to invest in Riding Sunbeams.

“This reflects enormous confidence in our purpose to deliver competitively priced, unsubsidised low carbon energy directly to the rail network, with a clear commitment to community ownership. The investment will accelerate our already well advanced technical development, and establish the appropriate commercial framework with rail system operators for them to take advantage of these opportunities as soon as possible.”

Riding Sunbeams is a social enterprise founded by climate charity Possible and Community Energy South. In August, it won £2.5 million of funding as part of the government’s £900 million Getting Building Fund.

In 2019, it celebrated a “first of its kind” demonstrator project, which saw a solar-powered railway, made up of a 30kW solar test unit of around 100 solar panels, switched on in Aldershot.

Riding Sunbeams won £400,000 of innovation funding from the Department for Transport and Innovate UK’s First Of A Kind 2020 programme in June 2020 to continue to develop the project.

As part of the announcement that it had won its first commercial funding, the company also formally incorporated its commitment to a “just transition” in its level rules of governance, a move it claims is a first in the UK. As such, any decision taken by the social enterprise must be in line with the principles of a just transition, pushing it a step further than being socially and environmentally responsible.

Matthew Clayton, managing director at Thrive Renewables, said they were “ incredibly proud” to provide the funding to Riding Sunbeams, “which aligns perfectly with our mission to power the transition to a sustainable energy future by helping people meaningfully connect with clean energy projects”.

“It is a great example of individual investors, communities, businesses and charities coming together to deliver better, cleaner infrastructure which serves people’s needs and is fit for the future. We have a track record of successful partnerships with community energy groups, funding construction of wind and solar projects owned by local people.

“Riding Sunbeams has the potential to take that to a whole new level by creating a new route to market for community energy groups’ clean electricity and making rail travel even more sustainable.”