Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Carbon Cost of Travel to the South of France - 96% reduction in CO2 (aka the nuclear train)

I had been half-joking that we were traveling to France by nuclear power and on our return, the internet shows that this was in fact, quite true. The TGV trains are electric and this electricity is sourced from nuclear power. With climate change, it is a somewhat surprising fact that presently, nuclear is good because it really does not pump out much CO2.

Anyhow, we wanted to understand the CO2 difference in our train journey to Narbonne compared with a short haul flight. It turned out that our journey by train caused 32kg of CO2 emissions each. Our friends, who flew, caused 735kg of CO2 equivalent emissons each (allowing for radiative forcing effects of pumping CO2, other gases and water vapour straight into the stratosphere).

Traveling by train we reduced our CO2 emissions for the journey by 96% - our CO2 emissions were only 4% of that of the flight.

How much did it cost? Our train tickets were £167 and getting to St Pancras cost £5 (return), a total of £172. At the time of booking a flight was £90 but getting to Stanstead would have cost at least £24 on the Stanstead Express from Liverpool Street and £5 return on the tube to Liverpool, a total of £119.

How long did it take? We left the house in West London at 9.15, checked in 30 minutes before the train (10.30) and the train left promptly at 11.05. We arrived in Paris at 13:20 (UK time) and made it to Narbonne, in the South of France, by 18:50 UK time.

If we had instead traveled by Plane, assuming it left at 11.05 from Stanstead, we would have left at 7.45, arriving at Stanstead at 9.15, giving us time to clear passport control and security and get to the gate 30 minutes before the flight. The flight would take 3 hours, landing at 14.05. Add another 45 minutes to get to the gate and clear customs, sees us leaving the airport at 14:50 in UK time. Now we have to find the hire car, which is about 45 minutes. Outside, with car, in Perpignan, at 15:35, and a 40 mile drive through rural France would add another hour. So, 16:35 into Narbonne.

In total, door to door, the train took 9 hours 35 minutes. By Plane would have taken 8 hours 10 minutes.

TransportCO2 EmissionJourney DurationCost
Train32kg9h 35m£172
Plane735kg8h 10m£119
Train v Plane-703kg (96% less)+1h 25m+£53

Added Benefits
Walking about! The train was extremely comfortable. There was lots of space for luggage (which we didn't have to worry about airlines losing), comfortable seats and a buffet car. If you are so inclined you can even jump off the train at some of the stops for a quick smoke (French side!).

We were extremely pleased to get to the South of France with only 32kg of CO2 emissions and to have had a comfortable journey. The actual situation is even better since the Eurostar operates a 100% carbon neutral operation by offsetting their passenger's carbon footprint, which lowers our carbon footprint for the trip to 10kg - though carbon offsetting can be a bit questionable.

We had 11 friends who flew instead of taking the train. They were great about sharing cars but if you overlook that small inaccuracy in the calculation, they caused a combined CO2 emission of 8.08 Tonnes of CO2 (11 x 735kg).

It's hard to imagine what 8 tonnes of CO2 is. An average French person's annual CO2 emission is 7 tonnes. 4 Chinese people would have a combined annual CO2 emission of about 8 tonnes. An average Indian person causes about a 1 tonne CO2 emission. (Source: World Bank (2004) reporting on 2002 data)

Another way to think about what 8 tonnes of CO2 is might be to compare it with car use. If we assume that an average car travels 50km a day (11,000 miles a year), at 200 grams per km, that would be 3.65 tonnes of CO2 for the year (this assumes a very small car!).

So, the CO2 equivalent of 11 people flying to the South of France from London is about 8 tonnes, which is about the same as 8 Indian people (or 4 Chinese people) emit in 1 year. Alternatively, it is more CO2 emissions than is caused by a small car driving average UK mileage over 2 years.


Here are the CO2 calculations and references.

Eurostar London St Pancras to Paris 22kg of CO2 (return)
TGV Paris to Narbonne 10kg of CO2 (return)
- much lower because the TGV's nuclear power produces little CO2

Total CO2 per person: 32kg

References: www.bbcgreen.com/Travel/Green-Transport/train-v-plane
SNCF EcoComparator
seat61.com Trains versus Planes

London Stanstead to Perpignan 710kg of CO2 (return)
- figures from terrapass.com and multiplying by 2.7 for the radiative forcing effect which they conveniently ignore

Car from Perpignan to Narbonne 25kg of CO2 (128km return)
- assumes 200grams per km CO2 (this is a low estimate - check this out www.comcar.co.uk) ;

Total CO2 per person: 735kg

A couple of simplifying assumptions were made. The Plane Journey is from Stanstead. The train journey started at St Pancras in London. These assumptions ignore the CO2 cost of getting to the airport/station.


At 1:23 am, Blogger caiden said...

I know how much it can cost in fuel . I have a transportation company and one of my trucks each exceed 9,000.00 in fuel cost every month! http://www.car--transport.com it is absurd that no one comes up with alternative fuel for big trucks, especially affordable!


Post a Comment

<< Home