Japanese train operator now fully powered by renewables

TOKYO (AP) – Shibuya in Tokyo is famous for its Scramble Crossing, where throngs of people weave through the intersection in a scene symbolizing the congestion and anonymity of urban Japan. This may have added another bragging right.

Tokyu Railways trains passing through Shibuya and other stations switched to power generated solely by solar power and other renewable sources from April 1.

READ MORE: Even as calls for climate action grow, real greenhouse gas emissions exceed official reports

This means that carbon dioxide emissions from Tokyu’s sprawling network of seven train lines and a tram service are now zero, with green energy being used at all its stations, including vending machines. beverages, security camera screens and lighting.

Tokyu, which employs 3,855 people and connects Tokyo to neighboring Yokohama, is the first rail operator in Japan to achieve this goal. It says the reduction in carbon dioxide is equivalent to the average annual emissions of 56,000 Japanese households.

Nicholas Little, director of railway education at the Center for Railway Research and Education at Michigan State University, praised Tokyu for promoting renewable energy, but stressed the importance of increasing the net amount of this renewable energy.

“I would point out that the biggest impacts come from increasing electricity generation from renewable sources,” he said. “The long-term battle is to scale up renewable electricity generation and provide the transmission infrastructure to get it to where it is consumed.”

The technology used by Tokyu trains is among the greenest options for railways. The other two options are batteries and hydrogen.

And so is this just a publicity stunt, or is Tokyu heading in the right direction?

Ryo Takagi, a professor at Kogakuin University and a specialist in electric rail systems, believes that the answer is not simple because the evolution of rail technology is complex and depends on many uncertain societal factors.

In a nutshell, Tokyu’s efforts certainly don’t hurt and are probably better than doing nothing. They show that the company is rising to the challenge of promoting clean energy, he said.

“But I’m not going to go out of my way to praise it,” Takagi said.

Bigger gains would come from switching diesel trains in rural areas to hydrogen lines and switching gas-guzzling cars to electric, he said.

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

“We don’t see this as reaching our goal but just a start,” deputy manager Yoshimasa Kitano said at the Tokyu headquarters, a short walk from the Scramble Crossing.

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

READ MORE: Without ‘radical action’, climate targets cannot be met, energy agency says

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

This is far behind New Zealand, for example, where 84% of the electricity used comes from renewable energy sources. New Zealand hopes to reach 100% by 2035.

Renewable sources that power Tokyu’s trains include hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, wind energy and solar energy, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that provides electricity and tracks its energy supply. .

Tokyu has more than 100 kilometers (64 miles) of railway tracks serving 2.2 million people a day, including “wages” and “salaries” and school children in uniform.

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, when a tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake caused three reactors to collapse, Japan has shut down most of its nuclear power plants and stepped up the use of coal-fired power plants.

The country aims to have 36-38% of its energy come from renewable sources by 2030, while drastically reducing overall energy consumption.

Tokyu Railways sought to publicize its efforts with posters and YouTube clips.

Yet Ryuichi Yagi, who runs his own business which made ties but has switched to wallets, seemed surprised to learn he was traveling on a “green train”.

“I had no idea,” he said.

Yagi changed companies because of Japan’s “cool biz” movement. He encourages male office workers to ditch their suits for open-necked, short-sleeved shirts to conserve energy by keeping air conditioning to a minimum during the hot summer months.

In a way, he says, “I lead a very green life.”

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