Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy. They currently receive 17% of their energy from alternative sources and have vowed to increase these levels to 35% in 2020 and 80% by 2050. Deutsche Bahn, the country’s major railroad company and largest energy user has just released plans to be completely carbon-free by 2050.

Rails in Germany transport over 1.9 billion passengers and 415 million tons of freight each year. Along with being such widely used, the train networks use a lot of energy. Deutsche Bahn currently uses 2% of the country’s total energy, as much as the city of Berlin. Cutting their carbon emissions and increasing the amount of energy that they receive from renewable sources would be a huge step in transforming their already very green transportation industry.

The high-speed trains of Germany are already much more energy efficient than alternative modes of transportation. These trains have carbon emissions of 46 grams per passenger per kilometer, compared to 140 grams for cars and 180 for planes. Also, several Deutsch Bahn (DB) local rail networks already run on 100 percent renewable energy. DB CEO Hans-Jurgen Witsche was quoted in the New York Times saying “we’ve got a vision of being carbon-free by 2050, that’s not just a declaration of intent. It’s a concrete business target.”

To accomplish this goal, the company recently installed solar panels on top of the roofs of its 5,700 stations. They also operate two wind farms that harvest energy from wind turbines. In July, DB signed a deal worth €1.3 billion to open 14 hydroelectric plants throughout Germany. The alternative energy sources that they plan to use will be a bit more costly, but they believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Others in the industry are skeptical. Some do not believe that current technology in sustainable energy is reliable enough for something as important as a nation’s transportation infrastructure. They are concerned what will happen if there is no wind or sunshine. Many skeptics are doubtful that customers will be willing to pay the extra costs due to a sustainable railway.

I believe that this is a huge step in the right direction towards a greener planet and a more sustainable economy. What do you think? Is this a major catalyst for increased alternative energy use? Or a flawed strategy for sustainability?

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