Major Japan railway now powered only by renewable energy

Major Japan railway now powered only by renewable energy thumbnail

A Japanese railway company, Tokyu, says it now uses just solar and other renewable energy to power its sprawling train service

April 27, 2022, 2: 36 AM

4 min read

Tokyu Railways trains that run through Shibuya, and other stations, switched to solar and other renewable energy in April 1. This means that Tokyu Railways’ seven train lines and one tram service have ceased emitting carbon dioxide. Green energy is being used at all stations, including for lighting, security cameras screens, and vending machines.

Tokyu, which employs 3,855 people and connects Tokyo with nearby Yokohama, is the first railroad operator in Japan to have achieved that goal. It says the carbon dioxide reduction is equivalent to the annual average emissions of 56,000 Japanese households.

Nicholas Little, director of railway education at Michigan State University’s Center for Railway Research and Education, commends Tokyu for promoting renewable energy but stressed the importance of boosting the bottom-line amount of that renewable energy.

“I would emphasize the greater impacts that come from increasing electricity production from renewable sources,” said he. “The long-term battle is to increase production of renewable electricity and provide the transmission infrastructure to get it to the places of consumption.”

The technology used by Tokyu’s trains is among the most ecologically friendly options for railways. The two other options are hydrogen power and batteries.

Is this a publicity stunt or is Tokyu moving in a positive direction?

Ryo Takigi, a professor at Kogakuin University who is a specialist in electric railway systems, believes that the answer is not simple. Train technology’s evolution is complicated and dependent on many unknown societal factors.

In a nutshell Tokyu’s efforts are certainly not hurting and may be better than doing nothing. He said that they show that the company is willing to take on the challenge of promoting clean energies.

“But, I’m not going to go out of my way praise it as great,” Takagi stated. He stated that switching from diesel trains to hydrogen-powered lines in rural areas and switching from gas-guzzling cars from electric would bring greater benefits.

Tokyu paid an undisclosed amount to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility behind the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, for certification vouching for its use of renewables, even as Japan continues to use coal and other fossil fuels.

“We do not consider this a step towards our goal, but a beginning,” said Yoshimasa Kitano, Assistant Manager at Tokyu’s headquarters. It is located just a few minutes walk from the Scramble Crossing.

Such steps are crucial for Japan, the world’s sixth-biggest carbon emitter, to attain its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

Only about 20% of Japan’s electricity comes from renewable sources, according to the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, a Tokyo-based independent non-profit research organization.

That lags way behind New Zealand, for instance, where 84% of power used comes from renewable energy sources. New Zealand hopes to make that 100% by 2035. According to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (the utility that supplies electricity and tracks the energy sourcing), the renewable sources that drive Tokyu trains are hydropower, solar power, and geothermal-power.

Tokyu has more than 100 kilometers (64 miles) of railway tracks serving 2.2 million people a day, including commuting “salarymen” and “salarywomen” and schoolchildren in uniforms. Japan has increased its use of coal-fired power stations since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which saw three reactors explode after a tsunami.

The country aims to have 36%-38% of its energy come from renewable sources by 2030, while slashing overall energy use. Tokyu Railways sought to make its efforts public with posters and YouTube clips.

Ryuichi, who runs his own company that used neckties but has now switched to wallets, was surprised to discover he was riding on a green train. “

“I didn’t know,” he said.

Yagi changed his business due to Japan’s “cool biz”. In order to save energy and keep the heat at bay, it encourages office workers to change their suits to open-necked short-sleeve shirts.

In a sense, he said, “I lead a very green life.”

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.comm/yurikageyama


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