Tokyu Railways goes full steam ahead on its sustainability journey
In 2019, Tokyu Railways became the first Japanese railway business to join RE100, a global green energy initiative that brings together hundreds of companies committed to powering 100% of their operations with renewable sources.
In less than three years, it has achieved its goal. In April, Tokyu began powering the seven train lines and its only streetcar line using solar, geothermal, and hydraulic power. Clean energy is also used at all stations to power vending machines, security cameras and lighting.
Tokyu’s energy source has been secured through the purchase of non-fossil fuel certificates issued by local governments. Through the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) scheme, launched in 2018 and approved by RE100, companies can purchase one of three certificates: -Fossils, green energy and renewables.
Tokyu has purchased enough renewable energy certificates to power all of its lines and stations throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area, including the busy Shibuya station and Kanagawa prefecture.
In total, the eight covered lines carry a total of 3.17 million passengers daily. In comparison, in February 2020, a month before the widespread explosion of Covid-19 in Europe, passengers completed 3.79 million journeys each day via London’s 11 Tube lines.
A significant step forward for the sustainable railway
The railway is already considered a relatively low-polluting means of transport. According to Tokyu, the average journey on board one of its trains produces approximately 180 g of CO2 emissions. If these passengers made the same trip in a private passenger car, the carbon expenditure would be up to 1 kg higher.
With an annual traffic of approximately 800 million, this is equivalent to avoiding 800,000 tons of CO2 the emissions that enter our atmosphere every year. Now, the environmental savings will be even greater, with the operator hoping to reduce its rail emissions to zero.
The estimated savings are not small at all. Tokyu claims the CO2 The reduction will be equivalent to the annual average emissions of 56,000 Japanese households, approximately 0.4% of Tokyo’s total population.
However, some have downplayed the importance of changing Tokyu to renewable energy. Ryo Takagi, a professor at Kogakuin University and a specialist in electric rail systems, said he would not do his best to “praise it as great,” noting the greater savings that could be made by running hydrogen-powered rural lines. or change to electric vehicles.
Dr. Gavin Bailey, chief consultant and head of sustainable transportation at independent consulting firm Eunomia, agrees that there are more emitters than railroad, but believes rail decarbonization is vital to reducing emissions caused by alternative modes of transportation. :
“Rail systems are often among the smallest emitters per capita, compared to road transport. Therefore, the overall impact on emissions in the city may be small compared to emissions from per capita transport. This does not mean that decarbonising the railway is not a priority or important.
“The railway will probably be the backbone of any future sustainable transport system. It will be integral to a sustainable modal shift of road transport. Therefore, to maximize the benefits of any modal shift it is important that this mode be decarbonised.”
Marking the pace of Japan’s railroads
As the first Japanese railway operator to boost 100% of its renewable energy operations, Tokyu is setting the pace. However, other operators are also doing their part to reduce emissions from the industry.
Following Tokyu’s pledge, Tobu Railway, Japan’s second-largest covered distance rail operator, announced plans to run its special express services between Tokyo and the tourist city of Nikko using renewable energy from April. Also in November 2021, Tobu announced the purchase of a new train fleet from Hitachi Rail, which will reduce CO2 emissions of up to 40% when deployed in 2023.
The East Japan Railway Company (JR East), Japan’s largest railway company, has also insisted that it will increase its use of renewable energy throughout its operations to meet Japan’s commitment to reduce emissions. of greenhouse to zero in 2050.
Since JR East alone consumes about 5 billion KWh in its train, station and office building operations, equivalent to 1.4 million homes, the actions of these companies will be crucial to achieving the net zero goal. .
What is causing the delay?
If switching to renewable energy is as simple as buying a certificate, what holds them back from other railway operators in Japan?
According to the Institute of Renewable Energy, a professional and educational body based in Tokyo, the problem is caused by rising demand and lack of supply. By 2030, electricity retailers will have to procure 44% of their supply from non-fossil sources, while pressure from the public and governments has further increased the demand for renewable electricity among businesses.
But according to the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policy, only 20% of Japan’s electricity is currently produced from renewable energy sources. Until production increases, much of Japan’s infrastructure will continue to depend on coal, oil and gas.
There are also infrastructure challenges. While switching to renewable energy may be easy for operators in big cities like Tokyo, those covering rural areas, where electrification usually lags behind, won’t find it that easy.
“As we have seen in areas of the UK, it is difficult or impractical to electrify parts of the network due to their rurality or the physical space available around the lines. In these situations, alternative electrification technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, show some promise, ”says Bailey.
Next stop: hydrogen
Hydrogen fuel cells provide an inherently clean source of energy. Producing only heat and water does not cause any harmful impact on the environment. And unlike alternative clean energies such as solar, wind or hydro, it does not require large areas of land to generate it. However, in each case, the efficiencies and inefficiencies of the technology involved must be taken into account.
“One of the main problems with hydrogen-powered systems is the energy needed to produce what is known as green hydrogen. When we use hydrogen in fuel cells, hydrogen is essentially the energy storage medium.” , Bailey continues.
“Storing electricity in any medium, whether a battery or hydrogen, requires additional energy for each unit of energy captured. In the case of hydrogen, the cost of storing each unit of energy is often higher compared to with a battery and potentially with long-distance transmission lines.
“The net effect of this is a higher energy demand for hydrogen-based systems, compared to alternative options. Therefore, in the context of renewable energy systems, a hydrogen-centric railway system it makes it possibly more difficult to reach a commitment to renewables. ”
The switch to renewables is “just a start” for Tokyu’s sustainable operation, according to Deputy Manager Yoshimasa Kitano. The commitment is part of the operation’s broader plans to rescue emissions to nearly half of 2019 levels by 2030 and zero by 2050, in line with Japan’s emissions targets.
From the collection of rainwater to irrigate the green spaces around their stations to the installation of natural ventilation systems to keep the underground platforms cool and the transfer of their retired vehicles to other companies to prevent the environmental cost of dismantling, Tokyu is setting a sustainable example for railway operators around the world. .