STAFF and supporters of the country’s greenest bus company have celebrated a historic day.

The Big Lemon has become the first in the country to have a zero emissions bus with the launch of a solar powered charger at its Whitehawk depot in Brighton.

It is a significant step for the firm as it moves away from its distinctive cooking oil-fuelled buses to an electric fleet powered by the sun, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign which raised more than a quarter of a million pounds.

The company has already taken delivery of its first solar bus which will go through rigorous testing before being put to work on the 52 route between Woodingdean and Brighton.

A second vehicle is set to be delivered in a matter of weeks and the company will then look to raise funds to convert a third bus to electric.

The depot, installed by Brighton Energy Co-op, has capacity for up to three buses.

Co-founder Tom Druitt said the firm was in discussions about further locations for charging points including at Shoreham Port, where the co-op has a large array with significant spare capacity.

The chief executive said testing of the depot at the launch yesterday saw it reach around 85 per cent of its 21 kWh maximum on a cloudy day.

He said during the summer the array would generate more than enough energy for the buses, offices and workshop while returning significant energy back to the grid though in the winter months it would take more from the grid than it would put in.

Mr Druitt said: “I think everyone got the sense that this was history in the making. This is the future of bus services and it is right here and standing in our depot.

“What has been amazing is how many people have really got behind the whole project.

“We had no money when we started and the whole thing has been made possible by people supporting the project, investing in it, and getting the message out there.

“Now we have done this in Brighton and Hove, we are thinking where else can we do this? We have shown you don’t actually need money to run a community bus company, you just need a whole lot of people to believe in it.”

Managing director Norman Baker said: “This was a major event not just for the Big Lemon, not just for Brighton and Hove but for the UK with the launch of the country’s first zero emission solar bus with more to come.

“It is an exciting time, we are growing, we are getting more coaches and going in the right direction. We are the only bus fleet in the country which does not require diesel or petrol.”