What Is The Issue?
Community energy was growing rapidly in the UK until 2016, but the development model was dependent on public policy that gave long term revenue certainty (Feed in Tariffs, primarily). These policies were slashed in 2016 and withdrawn completely in April 2019, leaving community energy developers without a viable business model or route to market. Investment in the sector has crashed and deployment pipeline reduced to a trickle. Riding Sunbeams is an ambitious public-public partnership approach to allow local cooperatives and social enterprises to directly supply public transport networks with the energy they need. When it comes to energy demand, electrified railways could act as ‘anchor institutions’ in the communities they serve. Instead of buying all their power from multinational utilities as at present, rail and tram operators could instead procure power directly from generators owned and financed by local people and service users. Research shows this would be commercially attractive for all parties.
What is the Project Trying to Achieve?
Riding Sunbeams’ innovation projects will develop the technical solutions to allow renewable generators to safely and efficiently supply power directly to dc and ac rail and tram traction systems, and to clear industry standards compliance protocols. The organisation will also work with key clients to develop the procurement and contracting frameworks needed to enable transport system operators to purchase power from third party generators via private wire connections, and also to underwrite investment in new generating capacity that have traction networks as their sole clients. Riding Sunbeams will seek to unlock the very large rail traction power market to third sector generators, and inscribe social impact into clients’ traction power procurement frameworks. Riding Sunbeams will develop a financing structure for community owned solar traction farms that ensures local communities and service users benefit collectively, and are also able to invest in these assets individually. Riding Sunbeams will seek to guarantee it retains in-house all commercially valuable knowhow being developed through its two large government-funded R&D projects in 2019.
Who Might be Interested?
Community energy groups and support intermediaries; rail and tram network operators; local authorities and social enterprises; community rail partnerships.