Electric trains have always been a relatively sustainable mode of transport, with much lower emissions than cars, but as of the 1st of January, 2017, all electric train rides in the Netherlands have become even greener. They are now entirely powered by clean, renewable, wind energy.
Dutch railway companies, of which NS is by far the largest, teamed up with energy company Eneco in 2015 to cut train ride emissions drastically. Originally, 2018 was set as the target for changing to 100% renewable power sources. After having reached 75% in 2016, though, the 100% transition was completed one year ahead of schedule.
The NS alone transports 600,000 people per day, for which it needs 1.2 billion kWh of electricity a year. For comparison, this equals the electricity consumption of all households of the Dutch capital Amsterdam. It is a major step in reducing the carbon footprint of the Netherland’s transport sector.
There are still some concerns about the way renewable energy is often “procured” in the Netherlands. At this point, total Dutch wind power generation is about 7.4 billion kWh annually. With wind power usage in 2015 equal to 12.5 billion kWh, Dutch demand for wind power amply exceeds supply. The way energy company Eneco frequently solves this is by procuring Guarantees of Origin (GoO). These are certificates belonging to renewably generated electricity, and by buying them up from countries where renewable energy supply exceeds demand, on paper, the GoO buyer’s electricity becomes green and the GoO seller’s electricity can no longer be sold as “sustainable.” So, the GoO system allows for the transfer of the rights to call electricity green from those who actually generate renewable energy to those who don’t but want to classify their power as such. The actual amount of green energy produced is unaffected.
However, for its railway clients, Eneco might have taken a different approach. Eneco explains to RTL Z that the electricity for the project comes from newly built wind farms in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Finland. It is reportedly due to the early completion of these wind farms that the 100% target was met one year ahead of schedule.
Regardless of the way the electricity was procured, the initiative is a welcome step in the right direction and should absolutely serve as an example for railroad companies in other countries.