Overhead Power Lines for Japan Trains Eyed for Transmitting Renewable Energy

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Power transmission via railway wires

The transport ministry is considering using the overhead lines that supply electricity to trains as networks to transmit renewable energy.

Unlike thermal power and other forms of large-scale power generation, sources of renewable energy are scattered across regional areas. Officials believe that utilizing the overhead lines for trains, which link regional areas, will make it possible to transmit sufficient amounts of renewable energy.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry aims to review relevant laws and regulations so as to realize this plan by fiscal 2030.

Starting this fiscal year, the ministry plans to provide support for tests by private-sector companies to ascertain the possible effects on train operations and identify technical problems. The initiative is intended to transmit renewable energy generated in regional areas via nearby overhead lines to public facilities and regional disaster bases.

Utilizing renewable energy is also expected to help local communities’ decarbonization efforts and disaster prevention.

Japan has about 24,000 kilometers of railway tracks. Of that number, about 15,000 kilometers, or more than 60%, are electrified. In the case of ordinary trains, electricity is supplied via pantographs on the top of cars or elsewhere to move motors. Overhead lines are set up in electrified sections to transmit electricity.

Railway networks link urban areas where electricity is consumed, traveling through mountains and fields that are suitable for generating renewable energy. However, solar energy, wind power and other forms of renewable energy tend to be scattered over various areas, as they are affected by weather conditions.

About ¥6 trillion to ¥7 trillion is estimated to be needed by 2050 to facilitate the electricity transmission network, according to projections by the government’s Organization for Cross-regional Coordination of Transmission Operators, Japan. But the utilization of overhead lines may help reduce the projected costs.

Hokkaido and Kyushu, which are seen as promising sites for generating renewable energy, have many unprofitable railway lines. If the overhead lines of such railways are used, or electric power companies set up new power transmission lines alongside railway lines, it would lead to the efficient use of existing facilities.

If such railway lines become more profitable, their operations are more likely to be maintained.

But while overhead lines can transmit high-voltage electricity, they are different from the power transmission networks used by major electric companies. The longer the distance over which electricity is transmitted, the lower the voltage will become. Such problems must be resolved before the project can be realized.

As an initial step, the transport ministry plans to support Shizuoka Railway Co.’s project to transmit electricity using 11 kilometers of overhead lines connecting the central part of Shizuoka city with coastal areas on the Shizuoka-Shimizu Line.