3 min read

As one of the biggest capital cities in the world, London faces an ongoing challenge to keep its transport network safe, user-friendly, efficient, and environmentally sound. Over the past few years, Transport for London (TFL, the operator), has been working on several schemes to address sustainability and air quality.

 The financial benefits

The implementation of a joined-up strategy for sustainable transport has obvious benefits:

  • Fewer vehicle breakdowns, so lower repair costs
  • Less reliance on fossil fuels, with potential for price fluctuations
  • The health benefits resulting from better air quality and reduced noise pollution, mean less health treatment is required
  • Battery development and innovation result in less need for replacements and lower costs
  • Use of solar power for transport, again, reducing costs

Given that TfL’s revenue from fares is nearly £5bn and that as a not-for-profit, it ploughs back all it makes into improvements, it has a certain duty to ensure it spends investment wisely and with an eye to the long-term future. 

Renewables and decarbonisation

TfL is also demonstrating its desire to move away from fossil fuels and rely on renewable energy and energy efficiency. It has been integrating solar power into its energy needs by installing 1.1MW of solar capacity on some of its vehicle depots, bus stations, and offices. This £4.5m programme was launched early in 2019 and will cause a yearly saving of 480 tonnes in carbon emissions. These installations will operate alongside retrofitted energy-efficient elements on its buildings.

Solar power generation and energy efficiency retrofitting for TfL are key elements of the Mayor’s Energy for Londoners programme. The scheme aims for London’s energy to come from local clean energy sources, with 1GW of energy being generated from solar by 2030.

The TfL Energy Purchasing Plan, published in December 2017, set very specific targets – between 2020 and 2023, it aims to steadily increase its use of renewable energy on the transport network. The London Environment Strategy notes that the purchasing plan projects complete elimination of carbon energy by 2030, thus attaining the exalted status of a zero-emission capital city transport network.

The bus network

As of late 2018, out of a total bus fleet of 9,396, around a third are fitted with energy-saving or alternative energy features. TfL’s strategic aim is to have around 3,000 electric and hydrogen buses and ultra-low emission double-deck buses in central London by the end of 2019. It also plans for 250 zero-emission single-deck buses by 2020, all of which will reduce noise pollution from traffic. TfL is currently trialling systems to make charging of hybrid and electric buses as efficient as possible. Additionally, wireless charging technology is being tried on certain routes.

The London Underground system

It is estimated that a sizeable 1.3 Billion journeys are made on the London Underground each year. That means air quality, noise pollution from engines and vibrations and electricity consumption are major concerns when it comes to sustainability.

Unsurprisingly, Transport for London is the largest consumer of power in the capital, using around 1.6TWh each year, with 1.2TWh used by the underground. By leveraging its extensive infrastructure in and around London, it can take advantage of its potential capacity to directly connect to a private power network. The aim is to buy in locally-generated and cheaper low-carbon energy so that by 2050, the capital would be zero-emission in that respect.

The Greater London Authority has calculated that using heat wasted around London would meet 38% of the city’s heating demands, which fits perfectly with one of the London tube’s by-products – wasted heat. Planning is ongoing to start piping this heat into many homes and businesses in Islington. The next phase would extend this network to 450 more homes. If it goes to plan, this initiative could mean sustainable area heating schemes across London to provide homes and businesses with cheap, low-carbon heat.

At present, the sustainability plans are moving ahead at full steam and, despite an ageing infrastructure, environmental strategies such as retrofitting buildings and rolling out electric charging points should I ensure that London does become a truly smart city of the future.