California high-speed rail looks to renewable resources for electricity supply

In “Trains prove their worth in helping improve air,” I offered, “In the final analysis if the growth in passenger train ridership is to continue, then additional service will be necessary. ….Electrified California high-speed rail service, on the other hand, expected to break ground later this year, when built and operational, will provide a viable alternative to meet the mobility needs of an ever-growing population and be of further benefit air-quality-wise having a strong potential to draw passengers away from other, far more polluting modes.”

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Some people reading this might be wondering if the electricity needed to power a train system on this order will be there when the need arises. They may as well be curious as to where that electricity is going to come from and whether or not the electricity used is going to be an added burden – a huge one or otherwise – on the existing grid supply. This post addresses that.

In California, construction of 800 miles of high-speed train line total connecting San Diego, Los Angeles and Anaheim in the south to Sacramento and San Francisco in the north all via the centrally located San Joaquin Valley is in the offing, the plan being to have the entire network completed by 2033.

As it no doubt relates, the Public Policy Institute of California published the paper: “Planning for a Better Future: California 2025: 2010 Update” and, in that document in the “Transportation” section, authors Ellen Hanak and Louise Bedsworth emphasize, “Looking ahead, California needs to reduce the environmental effects of the transportation sector while improving mobility. To achieve both goals simultaneously, technological, organizational, and funding innovations will be needed.”

As an aside, well, sort of, on April 18, 2011 Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Peter Miller in “A Golden Future For The Renewable State” at the California Progress Report writes: “While Congress stalls on America’s clean energy future, California is already making renewable energy the resource with which we’ll power our way to the future. Just last month, the California Legislature passed the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard with broad bipartisan majorities. This legislation increases the share of renewable energy supplied by electricity providers to 33 percent by 2020.”

The conversion process will, of course, be ongoing but gradual.158px-Turbine_aalborg[1]

Writes Miller: “Under Senator Joe Simitian’s 33 percent [Renewable Portfolio Standard] bill, electricity providers are required to obtain one-third of their electricity from renewable resources, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and small hydroelectric plants. And we’re well on our way to meeting the 33 percent goal. The California Independent System Operator has already approved enough transmission to get us to 33 percent. Utilities [Pacific Gas & Electric], Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have signed power purchase agreements for more than 20,000 [megawatts] to reach that goal. And last year, the California Energy Commission approved almost 4,200 [megawatts] of new solar thermal capacity in the state.”

So, with that said, and in considering for a moment the “technological” innovation component mentioned by Bedsworth and Hanak above, when it comes to operating a vast high-speed rail network such as this, it is important that all the pieces of this intricate infrastructure-energy puzzle fit.

Considering the scope of the state project, the supply of electricity needed to power trains will be enormous. On the plus side in one sense is that full build-out of the statewide electrified rail network is not projected before 2033 which should allow more than enough time to beef up energy infrastructure to meet demand. More good news is that the trains, through their dynamic- or regenerative-braking-process capabilities will themselves in essence be electricity generators or power supplies. The energy produced from the regenerative braking process from say a braking train going downgrade, can be transferred to another train operating on level track or as well to another going upgrade or this electricity can even be fed to line- or wayside electricity storage systems for use at a later point in time.

Not just this but the high-speed railroad supporting infrastructure itself can be outfitted with renewable-energy devices like photovoltaic or solar arrays and that, in and of itself, should prove to be of even greater benefit and value.

When it comes to building viable and useful train systems, whether these be electrified or not, there does not appear to be any obstacle to operation that cannot be overcome, this being one of the key features that make rail systems like this so attractive to so many.

This post was last revised on May 26, 2020 @ 9:22 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel