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The Global Shift to Renewal Energy in Railway sector

Yemi Olakitan

Renewable energy, usable energy derived from replenishable sources such as the Sun (solar energy), wind (wind power), rivers (hydroelectric power), hot springs (geothermal energy), tides (tidal power), and biomass (biofuels).
geothermal power station are the way to go if the world is to combat climate change and global warming.

Many African countries are committed to implementing a range of adaptation and mitigation measures designed to reinforce their resilience to climate change impacts and support global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.

According to the International Energy Agency, transport systems contribute to roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions, resulting in substantial environmental degradation and health risks. This underscores the significance of the shift towards achieving carbon-neutral transportation, which has emerged as one of the foremost challenges confronting the world today. In this regard, many African countries are actively working to promote low emission transport systems, integrate renewable and clean energy sources into the transportation networks, and encourage the use of non-motorized transport systems in urban areas.

Rail transport offers a promising solution to reduce the overall external costs of transportation, particularly in comparison to road transport. It outperforms in terms of energy efficiency, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, reduced traffic congestion, minimized road damage, and enhanced safety. When transitioning from road to diesel railways, there can be an approximately 75% reduction in external costs. If electric railways are adopted, an additional reduction of around 11.5% is reached. It is important to note that these benefits have been evaluated using European data and, in Africa, older vehicle fleets, driving habits, and high traffic congestion may result in even higher external costs for road transport.

Energy efficiency is a major advantage of rail transport, given its capacity to move significantly larger loads compared to trucks and to connect substantial numbers of passengers between major urban nodes. This translates to lower energy consumption per unit of cargo or per passenger. For example, a single conventional train equals the capacity of 120 trucks (carrying 120 40 ft-containers) or even of 240 trucks (carrying 240 40 ft-containers) if containers are double-stacked, which is a practice that is gaining momentum in Africa.

In terms of emissions, the energy savings per unit of cargo lead to reduced vehicle emissions and greenhouse gases (GHG). Rail transport is, in fact, the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation, improving air quality, and reducing health risks for people living near transport routes. For freight transport, diesel railways can cut CO2 emissions by about 60% compared to road transport, and electric railways can further reduce emissions by 30%. In passenger transport, railways can reduce CO2 emissions by around 79% compared to road transport. It is essential to emphasize that these figures do not consider the adverse externalities linked to electricity production. However, the advantage of having fewer legacy systems in Africa is that it allows for the adoption of more innovative systems, such as the implementation of renewable energy or hydrogen-powered trains in the future. This, in turn, would further enhance the benefits of rail transport.

According to various reports, rail is moving towards reliance on sustainable energy sources at an impressive pace across the globe.

A new era in rail travel is now underway, as systems around the world are engineering new means of powering their trains with renewable energy. By effectively complementing current sources of power, these innovations could lead to an even more sustainable future for the rail and energy industries alike.

In the Netherlands, for example, passenger trains are primarily powered by wind. Its primary railroad, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, uses wind energy to power its 1,200 electric trains and transport 600,000 people every day. This single company serves more than 90% of the country’s commercial train travel needs.

Since renewable energy is usually more expensive, NS is employing cost-cutting measures elsewhere, such as shutting off lights and air conditioning when trains are out of service and braking more slowly whenever possible. It expects that such measures will reduce energy consumption by 35%, lowering operating costs while heightening efficiency throughout the national network.

In California, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) recently promised to derive at least 50% of its wholesale electric portfolio from eligible renewable sources and at least 90% of it from low-carbon and zero-carbon sources by 2025. According to this new sustainability policy, it will rely entirely on zero-carbon and eligible renewable sources by 2045. This makes BART one of the first electric public transit systems with an established plan to convert entirely to renewable power.

Like NS, BART’s new sustainability policy also seeks to lower operating costs by reducing total energy consumption. But the San Francisco transit system is going the extra mile by purchasing this clean energy itself, making way for what Greentech Media’s Julian Spector calls “the transit agency as electric utility.” With the help of SolarCity, it’s also planning on building its own on-site solar generators in order to help offset the costs of purchasing clean energy from the wholesale market.
Solar Energy from India to Chile

Several other countries have started renewable energy programs for their railway networks as well. Chile’s Santiago Metro, for example, partnered with a solar energy provider and a renewable energy firm last year to construct a specially designed solar plant and complex of wind turbines to power the rail system. The projects will be completed in 2018, and could supply the metro with power for as long as fifteen years.

In Europe, Italian startup Greenrail has developed a highly anticipated form of railroad ties that can generate up to 150 kWh of solar energy for every kilometer of rail while a train is running. Made from concrete and recycled plastics, these ties contain a built-in photovoltaic module that effectively transforms the railway lines themselves into solar fields. A similar initiative in the United Kingdom, Network Rail, has bypassed traditional grid methods by connecting solar panels to traction energy lines.

In Asia, the Hindu Business Line reported in early May that Indian Railways (IR) is negotiating a deal to rely on power from Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Ltd., a joint venture between the Solar Energy Corporation of India and the government of Madhya Pradesh. Relying on this power bank would afford IR access to ten megawatts of solar power every day.
Railways Still Need Regular Care and Maintenance

While these new and innovative projects may result in a more sustainable future for the rail industry, railroads will always need to protect and maintain their equipment, regardless of what powers them. With over forty years of experience in the industry, Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. offers operators a wide range of products that lubricate, protect, and strengthen railroads.

Our rail lubrication products and anti-icing agents are durable, efficient, and environmentally friendly, ensuring high performance in any climate or location. As the rail industry moves into a more sustainable and efficient age, Midwest’s suite of solutions can help you ensure that your operations keep up with the times.

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