Renewable logistics: intermodal transport in Switzerland to become more environmentally-friendly

2021/09/28 at 10:15 AM

Switzerland is at the forefront of the European railways in terms of carbon neutrality. More and more containers are delivering across the country’s fully electrified rail network, which is powered by green electricity. Now, it’s a turn for the terminal operators to transform their activities.

Starting from mid-September, Swissterminal, the Swiss family-owned terminal specialist, revolutionised its operations. The company that runs six major container terminals in the country (in Basel, Birsfelden, Frenkendorf, Niederglatt, Liestal and Ottmarsheim) made a remarkable step towards achieving its strategic goal, namely to tranship boxes at its facilities without a carbon footprint. Swissterminal concluded an agreement with Renergy, an independent Swiss electricity broker, for supplying its terminals in Switzerland with green electricity, i.e. energy fully generated by the country’s hydropower plants.

Intermodal facility of Swissterminal in Switzerland, source: Swissterminal

The deal between the parties will act until 2024 with an option for further extension. “This is a major step towards our goal of reducing our carbon emissions, helping our customers shrink their own environmental footprint and continuing to build a more sustainable logistics market,” noted Roman Mayer, CEO of Swissterminal. He also added that this initiative is clear evidence that ‘renewable is doable for logistics’.

Green traction energy

It is worth reminding that Swissterminal is not alone in its decarbonising efforts the intermodal transport in Switzerland. Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), the state-owned railway group, is also carrying out an efficient environmentally-friendly policy. For more than a year, SBB has been using traction energy generated by the photovoltaic panels installed on the roofs of the company’s buildings.

Container train of SBB Cargo, source: Alain D. Boillat / SBB Cargo

In June 2020 the Swiss national railway company installed solar panels at Zürich Seebach railway station, to be more precise on the roof of its frequency converter. They can generate up to 130,000 kilowatt-hours of green electricity per year. Solar energy is not only carbon neutral but efficient in terms of economy and operations as it does not require additional conversion as the conventional energy supplied to SBB (due to the different frequencies).

New Renewable Energies

SBB, including its freight subsidiary SBB Cargo, has been shifting towards solar energy since 2018 when the railway company launched the New Renewable Energies programmes, which is dedicated to the development of photovoltaic energy. Currently, SBB power its electric locomotives and trains with energy generated by hydropower plants. By 2025, it is planning to use the traction energy solemnly produced from renewable sources and by solar panels in particular.

Photovoltaic panels on the roof of frequency converter at the Zürich Seebach railway station, source: SBB

Besides using green energy for traction, SBB also applies it for powering and heating/cooling station buildings, offices, workshops and infrastructure facilities. The railway group equipped at least 12 of its buildings with solar panels. To carry out works of this kind, SBB attracts specialised contractors or established partnerships with them. For instance, Centralschweizerische Kraftwerke (CKW), the Swiss electricity distributor, equipped several SBB’s buildings with photovoltaic panels. As the railway company provided CKW with special areas for this purpose, the latter installed panels for its own cost and supplies the green electricity to the former at lower prices compared to the free market.

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