One of the unofficial themes of the World Energy Innovation Forum which I attended recently at the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont was optimism about renewable energy developments. Just several days later, it was announced that all Dutch electric trains could be getting their power from renewable sources by 2018.
A cooperative comprised of various local rail carriers called VIVENS (Verenigd Inkoop en Verbruik van Energie op het Nederlandse S) signed an agreement with the utility Eneco to deliver 1.4TWh of electricity to them. All of it will come from wind farms in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Belgium. A large number of rail carriers of both passengers and freight, including NS, will receive their power from the new contract. NS alone carries about 2.3 million passengers each day, though it also provides service in the UK and Germany. This one carrier has about 30,000 employees. (It claims to have cut energy consumption per passenger per kilometer approximately 30% since 2005 and that about 80% of its riders have indicated that green power for rail is preferable.)
The plan is to gradually phase in a percentage of trains running on wind power each year. For example, for NS, about 50% of its trains will run on wind power by 2015 and 70% by 2016, with 100% being the goal for 2018.
Freight rail plays a central role in the European economy and appears likely to expand, as noted by Wilma Mansveld, Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment. “In the Netherlands, rail transport is facing heavy weather. Yet rail freight grew last year. For example: in 2013 4% more trains passed the border between Germany and The Netherlands. While as many as 10% more trains crossed the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. As you know the Betuwe freight line to the German border was opened in 2007. By January 2014, 100,000 trains had used it. Every year 130,000 trains use the freight corridor between Rotterdam and Genoa. That is the equivalent of nearly 4 million trucks!”
Diesel trains will still be active in the Netherlands alongside electrics, but diesel exhaust has been found to be harmful to human health. Thousands of premature deaths each year have been linked to air pollution from diesel engines. Eventually, through the aging of the fleet, so to speak, and the development of more renewable energy sources, diesel locomotives may be replaced entirely.