That’s a bit sneaky

This is a guest post by Peter Delow. It’s part of an article originally published in earlier this year: read the whole article here.

As a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (MIET) I was interested to see that my institution, jointly with the Royal Academy of Engineering, has submitted a response to the public consultation on HS2 (under the banner Engineering the Future). …

It is quite clear that the IET and RAEng are not entirely happy with the “evidence” that has been provided by the Government to inform the public consultation, nor of some of the methodology that has been employed in the analysis. The response criticises a number of features of the economic and business case, including: considering HS2 in isolation from other parts of the rail network, lack of clarity on plans to bridge the north/south divide through transport, questionable money values attributed to time savings and failure to include details of the planned cost of fares in the analysis. (Editor:- Very similar to the criticisms of HS2 from the Transport Select Committee)

…Secondly, that the “high-speed line could lead to an increase, not a reduction in CO2 emissions”.

On a personal note, I am grateful to IET and RAEng for clearing up a problem that I had with figure 1.2 on page of 14 the Consultation document. This figure is reproduced below:

Carbon emissions by mode of transport (source: HS2 Ltd)

The histogram originally appeared as figure 2.2 in the High Speed Rail Command Paper, Cm 7827 (which may be downloaded here). In neither document in which it appears is the derivation of the emission levels given in the histogram adequately explained.

What I find troubling about this figure is the two bars at the extreme right hand end. These appear to show that the high speed Eurostar generates only about a third of the CO2 emissions of the conventional speed inter-city. So have we been wrong in the opposition camp in claiming that HS2 will lead to higher emission levels?

The IET and RAEng consultation response offers a reason for this apparent contradiction:

One can surmise that this is because the Eurostar is assumed to be fed with French “nuclear” energy while intercity rail is assumed to be fed by the current UK electricity energy mix …

The carbon emissions resulting from the generation of electricity in France are indeed lower than in the UK. The former derives over three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power stations, whereas in the UK the proportion of electricity supplied by nuclear power is less than one quarter. Whilst electricity generation by nuclear power is not entirely carbon free, the carbon emissions are considerably less than the hydrocarbon based generation upon which the UK predominately relies.

So what does the IET and RAEng document think about the comparison that HS2 Ltd has made between conventional and high speed rail?

It says that the use of two different electricity generation regimes is

“a distinction which is inappropriate if the purpose of the document is to represent alternatives for the UK in the 2030s”.

The consultation response by the New Economics Foundation confirms the “surmise” by the IET and RAEng, and gives further information. The Eurostar CO2 figure uses an average grid carbon intensity figure for UK, Belgium and France and the inter-city figure includes emissions from diesel trains operating on the inter-city routes. Also the Eurostar calculation assumes around 70% occupancy, whereas the occupancy of inter-city varies from 28-45%.

As I said in the title to this blog: “That’s a bit sneaky”.

Please read the whole of this article on the HS2 and the environment blog.  The IET submission can be downloaded  here.

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One comment to “That’s a bit sneaky”
  1. A lot of people believe this sneaky bit of miss-information. I was even taken in by it myself, until I looked into it further. At least now the select committee have concluded that claimed carbon reduction benefits “don’t stand scrutiny”.

    Philip Hammond liked to claim that HS2 would be a low carbon form of transport. He justified it saying that as the proportion of fossil fuels used in power generation decreases there would be a corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions from electrically powered trains.

    Sounds fine in theory, but will it work in practice?

    In 2010, gas and coal accounted for 75.7% of electricity generated, nuclear accounted for 15.6% and renewables for 6.9%. The remaining 1.8% came from ‘other’. Government targets are to get to 15% renewables by 2020, by which time around a quarter of our current generating capacity is due to close. New nuclear plants due to be completed by 2025 will replace the ones that are closed.

    This means that by 2025, based on current levels, fossil fuels would still account for two thirds of electricity generation. Claims that we can “de-carbonise the grid” do not stand up to scrutiny.

    While we are rightly concerned with CO2 emissions and taking steps to reduce them, ultimately we will have no choice as fossil fuels become less available. Oil, gas and coal are non renewable resources which are being consumed more quickly than they are being found. They are getting more difficult and costly to extract, and increasingly concentrated in only a few countries. We’re already seeing dramatic increases in prices.

    Energy conservation and sustainability are major challenges facing us in the 21st century. No amount of ‘sneaky’ government spin can change the scientific fact that energy use increases approximately with the square of the speed. At 400 km/hr a train will use 4 times more energy then at 200 km/hr, wherever the energy comes from. HS2 operating at 360 km/h would consume 23% more energy than at 300 km/h. While we’re all switching to low energy light bulbs and turning down the heating, the government wants to burn up more fuel to save a few minutes sitting on a train. It’s insane when you think about it. HS2 is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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