Analysis: German rail to run on sun, wind to keep clients happy

BERLIN Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:55am EDT

1 of 3. File handout photo made available August 22, 2011, shows a train of German railway company Deutsche Bahn at the Maerkisch Linden windpark near Neureupin April 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Neuhaus/Deutsche Bahn/Handout

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BERLIN (Reuters) - It won't be easy to run a national railway on renewable energy like wind, hydro and solar power but that is what Germany's Deutsche Bahn aims to do for one simple reason: it's what consumers want.

Deutsche Bahn says it wants to raise the percentage of wind, hydro and solar energy to power its trains from 20 percent now to 28 percent in 2014 and become carbon-free by 2050.

"Consumers in Germany have made it clear they want us all to get away from nuclear energy and to more renewable energy," Hans-Juergen Witschke, chief executive of Deutsche Bahn Energie, said of the railway's attention-grabbing revised targets that exceed the government's already ambitious national aims.

"It's what customers want and we're making it happen," Witschke said in an interview with Reuters. "The demand for green electricity keeps rising each year and that'll continue."

Prevailing attitudes in Germany were already decidedly green before the Japanese Fukushima nuclear accident in March prompted a head-first dive into renewables.

The Berlin government abruptly reversed course on nuclear power, shutting eight nuclear plants and vowing to close the other nine by 2022.

That caught Deutsche Bahn -- and German industry -- off guard. The state-owned railways had relied heavily on nuclear energy. But now the public and industry are increasingly attuned to sustainability and what companies are doing, Witschke said.

"Environmental protection has become an important issue in the market place and especially in the transport sector," he said. "It's a mega trend. Even though more renewables will cost a bit more, that can be contained with an intelligent energy mix and reasonable time frame. We're confident that cutting CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions will give us a competitive advantage."

"GREEN-WASHING?"

There are still concerns about the reliability of renewables as their share rises toward 100 percent and before more storage capacity is available. What happens when there is no wind or sunshine?

Some transport industry analysts are skeptical.

"It sounds like a bit of 'green-washing'," said Stefan Kick, an analyst at Silvia Quandt Research, a Frankfurt brokerage. "Obviously costs for renewable energy are going to be higher. Yet if customers are truly willing to pay, it could make sense."

The railway's new push for a larger share of renewable energy to operate trains that transport 1.9 billion passengers and 415 million tonnes of freight each year has won applause from environmental groups.

They have cheered Deutsche Bahn's partnerships with wind and hydroelectric power suppliers and its exploratory moves into harvesting solar power from the roofs of its 5,700 stations.

Photovoltaic panels in the spectacular glass roof of Berlin's main station produce 160,000 kw/h of electricity a year -- meeting about 2 percent of the Hauptbahnhof station's needs.

Previously, environmentalists had accused the company of neglecting to develop renewables on its vast properties and because of its heavy reliance on nuclear.

Peter Ahmels, a renewable energy specialist at the German Environmental Aid Association (DUH), said the railways could have done more with wind and solar on its property holdings.

Instead, he said Deutsche Bahn had relied complacently on its image as a low-emission mode of transport.

It could do this because even high speed trains have CO2 emissions per passenger per km of 46 grams, compared with an average 140 for cars and 180 for planes.

"Since Fukushima, Deutsche Bahn has been moving in the right direction," Ahmels said. "There's clearly a new thinking on the board. They're doing sensible things. Before they resisted. The argument was that renewables were not their core business."

CARBON-FREE VISION

The railway's high speed trains zip across the country at up to 300 kph (186 mph). By 2014 a third of the electricity for long-distance trains will come from renewable sources.

Deutsche Bahn also operates myriad local rail operations in towns and cities. Some operations, such as local railways in Hamburg and Saarland, already run on 100 percent renewable energy and proudly boast about that in advertising.

To run its trains the railways use a staggering amount of electricity every year: 12 terawatt hours. That is as much as Berlin with its 3.2 million residents consumes.

The railways alone use 2 percent of Germany's total electricity. A single high-speed ICE train traveling from Frankfurt to Berlin uses up 4,800 kw/h, enough for a four-person family for a full year.

Germany is already a world leader in renewable energy. About 17 percent comes from renewables, up from 6 percent in 2000.

The German government aims to raise that share to 35 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Witschke said Deutsche Bahn will have 35 or 40 percent by 2020 and 100 percent by mid-century.

"We've got a vision of being carbon free by 2050. That's not just a declaration of intent. It's a concrete business target."

Some passengers and business partners, such as carmaker Audi, already voluntarily pay small surcharges for CO2-free transport packages that guarantee green power is used.

"The demand for our CO2-free products has been above expectations," Witschke said. "The customers really want this. If they keep turning to the CO2-free products at this pace, we'll be over the 40 percent mark in 2020."

To help meet that target, Deutsche Bahn has been operating two wind parks in Brandenburg and in July signed a 1.3 billion euro deal with utility RWE to get 900 million kw/h a year from 14 hydroelectric plants -- enough for 250,000 households.

Because there are still questions about the reliability of renewable energy until the storage capacities can be increased, Witschke said he carefully tracks the wind parks to learn more.

"It's a learning process," he said. "We face the same issue as everyone: what do you do when there's no wind? The experience we've is that too much wind (when turbines are turned off) is more of a problem than not enough."

The hydroelectric deal with RWE runs for 15 years and will supply the railways with about eight percent of its needs.

"It does have quite a symbolic impact when the country's largest electricity user takes such a big step into regenerative energy," Witschke said. "We're also one of the biggest electricity users anywhere in Europe. It's not going unnoticed."

(Editing by Anthony Barker)

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Comments (2)
atomikrabbit wrote:
“Deutsche Bahn says it wants to raise the percentage of wind, hydro and solar energy to power its trains from 20 percent now to 28 percent in 2014 and become carbon-free by 2050.”

Yes, and the inhabitants of Hell want ice water by 2050, and every leprechaun child wants their own unicorn, but it still isn’t going to be possible.

“Even though more renewables will cost a bit more, that can be contained with an intelligent energy mix and reasonable time frame. We’re confident that cutting CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions will give us a competitive advantage.”

An intelligent energy mix of what? For every 1000KW of nameplate wind capacity another 1000KW of backup from dispatchable fossil (probably Russian methane) will be required. And the variability of wind requires constant cycling by the backups, which makes them less efficient and release more CO2. Anyone who thinks wind power cuts carbon emissions just hasn’t done their homework.

“There are still concerns about the reliability of renewables as their share rises toward 100 percent and before more storage capacity is available. What happens when there is no wind or sunshine?”

Maybe someone should have asked that question before they hysterically shut down all the nukes. Answer – the trains (and the rest of their export-based industrial society) comes to a screeching halt.

“Photovoltaic panels in the spectacular glass roof of Berlin’s main station produce 160,000 kw/h of electricity a year — meeting about 2 percent of the Hauptbahnhof station’s needs.”

So averaged over the 8760 hours in a year we get a measly 18.2 KW an hour. I wish they had provided the “nameplate” rating and total installation cost (including inverters and storage) so we could see what a pathetic, but expensive, capacity factor these units provide, especially during the snowy high-latitude German winter.

“even high speed trains have CO2 emissions per passenger per km of 46 grams, compared with an average 140 for cars and 180 for planes.”

Powered by next-generation nuclear plants, electric trains would have CO2 emissions of essentially zero.

“Some operations, such as local railways in Hamburg and Saarland, already run on 100 percent renewable energy and proudly boast about that in advertising.”

Really? So they shut down the trains at night when the wind is not blowing? And once it’s on the grid, how could they tell a pretty green electron from an ugly nuclear one?

“the German Environmental Aid Association (DUH)”

I think that pretty much says it all.

Aug 22, 2011 7:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
aligatorhardt wrote:
False assertions are given then claim to end the discussion. Not so fast with the hit and run commentary. Nuclear power is not emission free. Mining, fuel transportation, fuel processing, all add emissions to nuclear power. The lack of CO2 emissions is made up for by the emissions of radiation, which is much longer lasting than CO2 emissions. The heavy use of water is also a concern for nuclear power. The nuclear waste problem is always hiding in the shadows with no solutions to be found even after 60 years of nuclear power. The recent costs of new nuclear power are rapidly rising, and the experience in Japan shows the high costs of nuclear accidents.

The wind most certainly does not stop blowing at night. Solutions for energy storage are being implemented all around the world with the use of pumped storage hydro, compressed air and battery storage, and CSP with molton salt storage. Not every generation facility needs it’s own storage as regional storage can balance the grid for several sources of independent variability. Widely dispersed wind power can relieve some of the variability, as wind changes are different in different areas. Solar power is already equal in cost to new nuclear power, with Germany being one of the leading countries in the world in solar panel manufacturing, as well as a strong presence in wind turbine production.

The time required to install nuclear power facilities is much greater than the time to install solar or wind power, as demonstrated by recent progress with renewable energy in Germany. http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/06/wind-farms-adapt-to-forest-conditions

http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/06/06/237150/stunner-new-nuclear-costs-as-much-as-german-solar-power-today-and-up-to-0-34kwh-in-2018/

Aug 24, 2011 11:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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