Getting started with Spring Street's Net Zero by 2050 pledge: public transport


One of the first orders of business for the Victorian Government, after having announced the Net Zero by 2050 pledge yesterday, is to get cracking on the eventual switch of power that supplies both the train and tram networks to renewable sources.

The Victorian Government announced it will enshrine a reduction target in legislation and further announced a series of five year interim targets with the ultimate goal of achieving the overall target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Using public transport might empower people and lead them to think they're being 'greener' than driving a car to work, to the shops or on some other trip; however the green tinge fades to brown when using a mode of public transport in Victoria that involves electric traction thanks to the majority of the electricity we consume originating from brown coal.

It's the perfect opportunity for the government to lean on public transport agencies and the two private rail network operators to match action with words. This opportunity could kick off by dangling two large-scale power purchasing agreements to the best tenderer who comes up with a solution to provide dispatchable, renewable energy to both the tram and rail networks in Melbourne.

Consider this

Last month, the powers that be in Santiago signed a deal with the US-domiciled, French parent company owned SunPower to supply up to 100MW or 42% of the Chilean capital metro's power needs through the use of solar energy sources. A separate wind farm will provide a further 18% of the Santiago metro's energy needs.

Spain and Morocco are rapidly implementing solar-thermal power plants which are able to capture energy - in the form of heat - during the day, store it and then dispatch it through a heat exchanger which in turns spins a turbine and discharges electricity through the respective national grids at night. This in effect provides 24/7 renewable energy from the sun.

This is not the first time there have been calls to switch Melbourne's public transport network over to renewable sources through the use of utilising long-term power purchase agreements to stimulate private investment in renewable energy power plants.

The Australian Solar Group were in the news last year stating they could build two solar farms in the sunnier corners of Victoria around Swan Hill and Mildura that would generate around 80 gigawatt hours of electricity a year, or enough to supply the tram network.

Discovering just how much power the rail networks in Melbourne consume can be a tricky ordeal with scant detail, however at the end of this document dated from 2015, Metro Melbourne state that "the Melbourne Railway System is a major customer of Electricity Distribution Businesses in Victoria. It consumes 377 MWh per annum and has a coincident maximum demand of approximately 100MW".

I suspect a typo was made with '377-megawatt hours (MWh) per annum' given the tram network reportedly consumes 80-gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity per annum, however it's the last part that is of particular interest; the heavy rail network has an approximate maximum demand of 100MW.

Presumably, the maximum demand occurs during the morning and afternoon peaks and storage would be critical if the switch to renewable were to occur, especially during the shorter-day, winter months. Regardless, should this Metro electricity consumption figure be correct, it neatly aligns with the capacity numbers of the Santiago project.

It's not pie-in-the-sky stuff anymore; purpose-built renewable power stations are being built for public transport networks.

Thankfully the Premier didn't do a Rudd and make a "greatest moral challenge of our time" speech, and while I appreciate I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the complexity involved with making this kind of switch, in order to match actions with words, it's time to take a razor gang to town on Victoria's transport emissions, and public transport should lead the way.


Adam Ford's picture

I found something recently that said PTV was the state's SECOND LARGEST consumer of electricity after Alcoa. Which I have buckleys of finding again of course.

But this is all a bit strange as a suggestion that you'd develop plant specifically for one energy user. Because I can guarantee the optimal spot to plug the power in to Metro's grid is NOT going to be the optimal place in the state to be generating solar thermal.

You don't need to build a square centimeter of extra infrastructure if you want to make the PT network greener. You need to mandate where it sources its energy from via contract. There seems to be this strange idea that "green electricity' gets sent along different sets of wires to normal electricity. A unit of electricity is a unit of electricity, and the only way you have of ascribing a 'source' to it is at the contract level. "Over twelve months I'm buying x joules in renewables ie anything from a REC-certified generation source at $y and z at the standard "dirty" rate.

The imperatives in Australia are to de-carbonise the grid SYSTEMICALLY. That means massive investment in either large scale solar thermal, or large scale (probably hydraulic) storage.

The statement "A separate wind farm will provide a further 18% of the Santiago metro's energy needs." is misleading. Unless it's a world first this is actually really describing a new wind farm that's projected to deliver annually approximately the equivalent of 18% of the Metro's power usage. Metro will contract to pay for this. This power and all the dirty power will be fed into the grid from whence they will become indivisible.

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Adam Ford's picture

Also this out today:
Basically, de-carbonising the grid so it incorporates a bazillion micro-generation sources instead of just a handful of large generators ofbasically means we need an entirely new grid.

And that's going to cost a fortune. Meantime people are struggling to pay their electricity bills in SA this year.

This is the REAL STORY behind the renewables headlines. And the Greens running round shouting about about BATTERY STORAGE, which for the FIFTIETH TIME, Mr Bandt will INCREASE, not reduce emissions is only going to make all this worse.

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