"The future of rail will be determined by how it responds to both rising transport demand and rising pressure from competing transport modes. Rising incomes and populations in developing and emerging economies lead to strong demand for mobility, but social considerations and the need for speed and flexibility tend to favour car ownership and air travel."
Transportation moves the world, and there are very few things as important to the industry as energy.
Ahead of SmartRail Munich on June 17-19, we sat down with Jacob Teter, Energy Analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA) to talk about how the organisation is looking at the future of rail, from sustainability and affordability to investment and logistics.
Can you tell us more about the International Energy Agency (IEA)?
An autonomous intergovernmental organisation originally dedicated to prevent and address disruptions in the oil supply, the IEA acted as response of the “rich countries” club to the 1973 oil crisis and related OPEC embargo. In large part the brainchild of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974, the four main areas of IEA focus are: energy security, economic development, environmental awareness, and global engagement.
The agency still works on topics related to oil and other fossil fuels, but its mission and scope has evolved considerably since those days. Today, the IEA looks at the full spectrum of energy issues, including oil, gas, and coal supply and demand, as well as renewable energy technologies, electricity markets, energy efficiency, access to energy, demand side management, and much more. The agency advocates policies that will enhance the reliability, affordability and sustainability of energy in its 30 member countries, and beyond.
What role does the IEA play in the transport industry, especially when it comes to rail?
Our team in the IEA focuses on all the motorised modes of transport, and their current and potential contribution to the four areas of IEA focus mentioned above. As the transport sector is responsible for 24% of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, this boils down to collecting, checking, and analysing detailed global data for all modes, from rail, shipping, and aviation to road modes (2 and 3-wheelers, cars, light commercial vehicles, trucks of various sizes, and buses).
On the basis of these data, we endeavour to build detailed policy and technology scenarios for how the transport sector might develop in the future. Answering questions like “What technologies can help to decouple transport services from CO and local pollutant emissions?” and “What policies can harness the most energy efficient and diverse modes of transport, and promote using them instead of more carbon-intensive modes (like aviation and private cars)?”
In the case of rail, we partner with the UIC, UITP, ITDP and others to collect, harmonise, and make sense of rail activity, energy intensity, and how rail fits into the bigger picture of multimodal (passenger and freight) services. Our resolution of rail is at the country level, our scope is global, and we look at metro, light-rail, and high-speed rail, as well as commuter and intercity rail.
What does your position of energy analyst entail?
I am in charge of developing and updating the IEA’s mobility model and overseeing various other projects. I was among the main authors of two major reports in the IEA "blind spots" series, which focused on important but too often neglected sectors of the energy system: The Future of Trucks, and the Future of Rail, both of which are available for free. I have also contributed to reports like the Energy Technology Perspectives Series, the World Energy Outlook, and the Global Electric Vehicles Outlook.
You’re due to speak at SmartRail Munich on June 17-19th – what do you plan to cover at the event?
I will talk about the highlights of our "Future of Rail" report, focusing on the following elements:
The data work: collaboration with rail and transport sustainability experts on collecting, harmonising, and analysing data;
Current plans and policies for rail development in different countries/regions of the world;
The costs, benefits, and opportunities for rail to contribute to mobility, and to energy, economic and environmental goals;
Main policy messages and the potential for rail to reduce GHG emissions and save energy, while also contributing to economic growth and opportunities;
The scope for further follow-up and more detailed research and collaborations in the area.
What does that "Future of Rail" report cover?
The Future of Rail explores the current and potential future benefits of the area, as both urban and non-urban rail systems can complement and provide high quality, efficient, equitable substitutes to other transport modes such as cars, trucks, and airplanes. Strategic investments in rail infrastructure can further support these benefits, enabling countries to diversify energy sources for transport, cut consumption of oil for other transport modes, and reduce greenhouse gas and harmful particulate matter emissions.
The report explores the benefits of metro and light-rail networks that operate in densely populated cities today, and the potential for such systems to reduce reliance on more energy- and carbon-intensive modes in an era of urbanisation. It shows how conventional and high-speed rail can perform a similar role in reducing reliance on cars, buses, and planes, leading to oil savings and emissions reductions. Finally, in a country focus on India, the report shows how a country where rail is the lifeline of the nation can ensure that rail networks continue to play an integral role in providing affordable, equitable, and efficient passenger and freight movements until at least 2050.
You’re involved in work concerning Advanced Fuel Cells (AFC) and Advanced Materials for Transportation (AMT). Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Sure! Part of the broader IEA network is engaging with communities of researchers working on cutting edge applied science and engineering, and I am the desk officer of two of these so-called "Technology Collaboration Partnerships" (TCPs). Me and my colleagues engage with both of these communities, and they provide valuable input to our policy work.
In the case of the AMT TCP, they provided feedback on the role of materials efficiency in clean energy transitions for a recent report I contributed to, and experts in the AFC TCP have provided valuable feedback to a current IEA draft report on Hydrogen which has been commissioned by Japan on the occasion of their presidency of the G20.
What has been your biggest career challenge to date?
Working at the IEA is always a varied and stimulating experience. As my responsibilities at the IEA evolve, I find that the challenge is about how to increasingly engage with all the interesting opportunities, information, projects, analysis, and politics, while keeping abreast of administrative duties and modelling work. This is a nice challenge, to be passionate about your work, but it certainly brings with it difficulties in enjoying the benefits of being "An American in Paris"!
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the rail industry?
The future of rail will be determined by how it responds to both rising transport demand and rising pressure from competing transport modes. Rising incomes and populations in developing and emerging economies lead to strong demand for mobility, but social considerations and the need for speed and flexibility tend to favour car ownership and air travel. Freight demand has also grown due to higher incomes and digital technologies, which have sharply increased the demand for rapid delivery of higher value, lighter goods.
The rail sector has important advantages to exploit in competing for business, but this will require additional strategic investments in rail infrastructure, alongside further efforts to improve its commercial competitiveness and technological innovation -- like all modes of transport, rail is very capital intensive.
To that end, large sums will need to be invested to keep rail competitive, and even increase its attractiveness vis-à-vis other modes. I believe doing so will require identifying corridors where investment in rail has the greatest economic, environmental and societal benefits; capitalising on "land value capture" to finance urban, commuter, and high-speed rail developments; and finally, passing policies that ensure that all forms of transport pay adequately for the impacts they generate.
Where do you think the next big changes will come to the rail industry in the future?
I am quite eager to see how digital technologies will impact urban mobility in general, and rail in particular. I think that machine learning, sensors, and "big data" could -- if harnessed wisely -- make travel in cities more convenient, cheaper, more pleasant, and more reliable, as well as give urban travellers more diverse options in terms of modes and real-time flexibility.
There are also a lot of opportunities to harness digital technologies to integrate rail into logistics and supply chains in urban (and non-urban) freight -- these digital innovations could be harnessed by the rail sector to cater to people’s travel needs and desires in very efficient and interconnected way.
Finally, we like to ask interviewees about their favourite rail journey ever; where’s yours, and why?
I lived and worked in rural China from 2003-2008, and over there, I travelled in some of the most luxurious and also the most exhausting train trips of my life. For instance, I once took a 28 hour standing journey, sandwiched shoulder-to-shoulder with Chinese commuters coming back from their Spring Festival holidays, with the lights on the entire time. I woke up at some point lying on the floor, with people’s feet all around me.
Another time I was seated for an even longer trip (30+ hours) across from a very loquacious Chinese guy who entertained the entire train with my complicity, by engaging me in a long chain of cigarette smoking, politics, cross-cultural joke-cracking, and card playing.
To meet Jacob and many other industry experts and decision makers, make sure to join us at SmartRail Munich on June 17-19th, 2019.