The smaller nations of Europe seem to be in the vanguard of using wind energy. Some time ago, I wrote about the day when Denmark managed to power the entire national grid using just wind energy. It was on a Sunday when energy consumption is lower but it was still a remarkable feat. Then this week had this news item that said that all the electric trains in the Netherlands are now powered by wind energy.
Dutch electricity company Eneco won a tender offered by NS two years ago and the two companies signed a 10-year deal setting January 2018 as the date by which all NS trains should run on wind energy.
“So we in fact reached our goal a year earlier than planned,” said Boon, adding that an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands had helped NS achieve its aim.
Eneco and NS said on a joint website that around 600,000 passengers daily are “the first in the world” to travel thanks to wind energy. NS operates about 5,500 train trips a day.
One windmill running for an hour can power a train for 120 miles, the companies said. They hope to reduce the energy used per passenger by a further 35% by 2020 compared with 2005.
When I read that news heading, my first mental image was the ridiculous one of each train having little windmills on top that powered the train and that as the train went faster, the wind speed got more and generated even yet more power, creating a perpetual motion machine. Of course, that is rubbish. Neither do the trains run on a separate grid that is powered by wind. Wind power is generated by wind farms that feed into the common national grid. This article explains the three ways that electricity can be used to run trains.
- On-board energy storage systems, such as batteries;
- An overhead wire that the train connects to; or
- An extra ‘live’ rail that has direct current flowing through it at all times.
You’ve probably noticed at least one of these options on your rail journeys. Overhead wires are best suited to tram and intercity services, whereas the more compact ‘third rail’ option is preferred for underground trains. The role of the third (or conductor) rail is to ensure that the electricity is always directly available, so it’s installed alongside, or in between, the pair of running rails (Keep an eye out for it when you’re next on an underground train).
Since the source of energy is indistinguishable once it enters the grid, what this news means is that the amount of energy that all the trains use is purchased from a company that uses wind sources to generate the power that feeds into the grid and the railway companies are paying prices set by the wind turbine costs.
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.
Currently, the Netherlands have a total of 2,200 wind turbines that generates enough power for 2.4 million households. The significant feature is that these sources of renewable power are now becoming increasingly cost effective and competitive with fossil fuels.