Renewable Energy and Efficient Transportation: Europe

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Sun in handsThe nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan opened a lot of eyes to the dangers of nuclear power. It is physically cleaner than coal for producing electricity, but the ramifications of accidents are devastating, far-reaching and permanent. Nuclear power, to me, is just not worth the risk.

This seems to be the prevailing attitude now. Europe has been heavily dependent on nuclear power, but things have changed since Fukushima. Citizens are protesting to get nuclear power banned and renewable energy embraced. In the meantime, it will be up to individual national governments to make change.

Emerging renewable energy, the decline of nuclear power in Europe

Forty percent of Switzerland’s energy comes from nuclear power. They are planning to close all five nuclear plants by 2034, so they are working on finding cleaner sources of energy. Hydropower is already common, so they need to tap into the sun and wind to reach their goals.

The Swiss Confederation’s 2050 energy strategy to reduce CO2 emissions means more stringent energy efficiency, upgraded infrastructure, grid and hydropower plants, and buying more renewable energy.

Renewable energy and transport

Rail companies are looking to renewable energy to power trains, stations and offices.Train travel uses 1/4 of the energy and releases 1/20 the CO2 of car travel. Gasoline is Europe is expensive, making train travel more attractive. Swiss Railways (SBB) carries 17% of the country’s passengers and 38% of its freight using only 4% of the transport sector’s energy.

SBB’s goal is to use 100% renewable energy by 2025, up from 75% today. By 2013, all their renewable energy will be produced by hydropower plants, which will make their renewable use 80%. Most of their energy use is for powering trains, and the remainder goes towards heating, equipment, lighting and road vehicles.

Energy efficient trains in Europe

Aside from reducing consumption, improving energy efficiency and developing solar and wind power, trains will become more efficient. New streamlined models will have less wind resistance, the locomotives will use less energy, steel wheels will have lower resistance, and they will use regenerative braking to create energy to go back into the grid.

In 2011, the Solar Tunnel was put into use along a stretch of track between Paris and Antwerp, Belgium. The Belgian rail company, Infrabel, and Efinity, a renewable energy company, collaborated with municipalities and Solar Power Systems to install 16,000 solar panels over a two mile stretch of high speed rail track.

The 3300 megawatt hours this system produces (enough for almost 1000 homes) will provide 50% of the power needed by the Antwerp Central Station and some of the rail infrastructure, such as signal lights. In the future, Efinity says it will grow to power 4000 trains a year. This one set-up will also eliminate 2400 tons of CO2 per year.

Wind power and energy efficient transport

Infrabel has plans to build a 20-turbine wind farm along another length of high speed rail to produce 36,000 gigawatts per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 60%. Infrabel is committed to choosing green energy in new projects as well as producing renewable energy. Belgium has already reached the EU target of 30% less CO2 emissions by 2020.

Customers, though, will be the ones who will create the need for renewable energy trains. Train travel is the most environmentally friendly form of transportation for passengers and freight. It will become more commonplace if people and companies demand cleaner methods of transport.

In Europe, the trend away from nuclear power is moving forward, and green energy for green transportation will take its place.

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