Transport for London Looks to Renewables to Power London’s Tube Network

London’s tube network could soon be entirely powered by renewable energy directly bought from wind and solar farms.

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Kahn has revealed plans to change the way that the Transport for London (TfL) Tube network is supplied with electricity. The move towards a greater use of renewable energy has been in the offing for some time now, part of the plan being to make the city’s famous rail network zero-emissions by 2030, but also to have the whole city become carbon neutral by 2050. The decision by the London Mayor was welcomed by environmental organisations including Greenpeace and the Renewable Energy Association.

Unsurprisingly, Transport for London (TfL) is London’s biggest electricity consumer but beyond that it is also one of the largest consumers of electricity in the UK. It uses 1.6TWh every year which is an annual power demand equivalent to that used by more than 437,000 average homes or approximately 12% of all households in the capital. The Tube alone consumes 1.2TWh each year and that does not include, buses, trams and Overground trains that make up the whole network.

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City Hall said recently that the publication to market of TfL’s renewable electricity requirements was a positive step forward and marked a significant moment in its ambition to operate a zero-emission underground train system in the UK capital by 2030.

All passenger rail services operated by TfL are electrically powered and the mayor has set TfL the objective to achieve a zero-carbon railway by 2030 as part of the London Environment Strategy.

Currently TfL sources electricity directly from the National Grid via the Crown Commercial Service. Rather than being supplied by the mix of clean and fossil fuel generators offered via the National Grid the aim is to test the market for securing TfL’s electricity through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with renewables generators which could supply power directly from wind and solar projects. The use of clean energy would prevent the emission of carbon into the atmosphere.

A study was conducted recently by British Business Energy which calculated that 200 wind turbines or 5.6 million solar panels would be needed to power the network completely on renewables for one year. That number of solar panels would take up the same amount of space as the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

As it stands 16 percent of the electricity used to power the operation of the underground already comes from renewables. It is of course totally impractical to fill the centre of London with wind turbines to make up the rest so instead London City Hall has released the Undergrounds energy requirements in order to be able to purchase the electricity from renewable energy suppliers.

The mayor wants to make sure that the energy used to power London’s rail network makes sense financially in the long-term and that it originates from clean sources especially with the financial challenges facing TfL in the current economic climate.

TfL will take a phased approach to the changes with their initial ambition being to purchase up to 10 percent of the Network’s power demand via renewable PPAs by spring 2022, subject to market approval from its Finance Committee. Their ultimate aim is to contract 100 per cent by the end of the decade.

The Market testing will investigate all elements of the PPAs so that TfL can secure a good deal for London. City Hall is looking to expand the use of renewable energy to its entire estate. To this end the potential for meeting the Greater London Authority group’s wider demand for renewable electricity will also be looked at. This makes up a total of 143 GWh which includes Greater London Authority (GLA), London Fire Commissioner (LFC), Transport for London (TfL), Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and Old Oak Common and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC).

The mayor’s office is exploring what opportunities are available to meet London’s wider public sector electricity demand with renewables, such as solar PV, including local authority offices, schools, and leisure centres. Added together these organisations, along with the GLA group consume around 3TWh of electricity every year, or the equivalent to over 820,000 homes, which is almost a quarter of all London households.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn said:

“As one of the single biggest purchasers of energy in London, it is important that TfL leads the way on green energy. This is a vital step towards my ambitions for TfL and London to be zero-carbon by 2030. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact but as we recover, we want to make sure that we build a better, greener, and more equal city. This work to secure cost-effective and renewable energy for the rail network, with ambitions to include the wider GLA group and beyond, will play a key role in London’s green recovery and accelerating action on the climate emergency.”

Chief executive of renewable energy trade body the REA, Dr Nina Skorupska, is pleased with the move by TfL to scope out the PPA market, which she believes will help to decarbonise the Tube network and lower its energy costs. It is one of a number of initiatives underway at TfL.

She said:

“This is a major step forward for both the low-carbon transport and power sectors, and we hope to see other London boroughs also getting involved.”

These are the latest steps taken in an effort to decarbonise the capital’s energy and transport use. It may not be generally known but since earlier this year waste heat from the London Underground network has been providing heating and hot water to more than 1,350 homes, a school, and two leisure centres in Islington thanks to a pioneering energy centre at Bunhill.

Sadiq Kahn said:

“This work to secure cost-effective and renewable energy for the rail network, with ambitions to include the wider [Greater London Authority] group and beyond, will play a key role in London’s green recovery and accelerating action on the climate emergency.”

Chief safety, health and environment officer at TfL, Lilli Matson said:

“As one of the largest electricity consumers in the UK, we have a duty to explore fully the contribution that renewable energy can make to running our services. This early market engagement will help us better understand generator preferences, their impact on price and their ability to decarbonise our future power requirements.”

As things stand at the moment almost half of UK businesses are working remotely due to Covid-19 and it is possible that commuting may never return to what it was before the crisis. Many people have got used to more flexible working hours and 45% of people are expecting to have more flexibility in their work hours after lockdown ends. If 45% of London’s commuters were to stay at home and continue to work remotely in the future it would save over 460KWh of electricity which equates with powering 46,000 homes in the capital every day.

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