25 years of high speed: Renfe is making progress in energy efficiency

alta velocidad renfe

 The company has already reduced its carbon footprint by 56% since 1990 to 24.2 g of co2 per transported unit and it maintains a sustainability and energy efficiency strategy.

Railway is one of the central elements for a low-carbon economy and the impact of high-speed services in Spain during the first 25 years shows it. Renfe’s transport activity in the high-speed services between 1992-2016, both on long-distance and medium-distance (346 million passengers), has allowed the company to make savings estimated to € 4.286 million if the impact on climate change, the pollution and the accident rate are economically assessed, savings that this transport would have had to achieve by other means.

 Carbon Footprint Savings

This would also have led to an increase in CO2 emissions (greenhouse gas) caused by the transport in Spain of more than 12.9 million tons and an increase in energy consumption of more than 2.6 million tons of oil (Teps).

These are external cost savings, carbon footprint savings and energy consumption savings generated by Renfe services according to the modal replacement methodology contained in the “Carbon Footprint of Railway Infrastructure (UIC)” 2 study and the assessment performed by externalities in the “External Transport Costs in Europe” (Ce Delft, November 2011) 3 study. The main contribution of this study is to prove with standardized and scientifically accepted measurement procedures that the railway is the means that generates less external costs, especially compared to other hydrocarbon-dependent means.

Zero-emission railway transport

89% of Renfe’s passenger and freight transport volume is achieved by electrified networks and it is, therefore, partially de-carbonized based on the current electricity mix (53% without emissions and 33% renewable). The company has already reduced its carbon footprint by 56% since 1990 (base year of the Kyoto Protocol) to 24.2 g of CO2 per transported unit and it maintains a sustainability and energy efficiency strategy that includes a new agreement concluded with Adif to deepen several areas of the railway system, to improve energy consumption and saving practices or innovation projects to analyze traction using liquefied natural gas or hydrogen batteries as potential substitutes for fossil fuels.

Compared to 1990, the energy consumption in the railway sector (final energy consumed per transported unit) has decreased by 33% worldwide. More than a third of the energy used in the railways is electric and a quarter of the lines are electrified worldwide.

According to data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Railway Union (UIC) 4, the transport accounts for 23% of greenhouse gases (GHG) due to fuel consumption and the demand for global mobility of passengers and freight is expected to double between 2010 and 2050, as a result of economic globalization and the buoyant markets. While 8% of global transport is performed by railway, the GHG volume generated represents 3.5% because the CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions generated by the railway are substantially lower than those generated by other transport means. Railway-specific CO2 emissions have been reduced by 63% in the case of passengers and by 48% in the case of freight between 1975 and 2013.