Sleepless Nights

07/12/2012 / Kaj

Last month I was on holiday in Portugal, under strict orders from my wife to relax. Just to make sure, she confiscated my laptop and phone, issued a ban on many of my favorite terms, from ‘corporate sustainability’ to ‘green energy’, and even made blogging a capital offence.

One night, reclining obediently in the manner of a carefree tourist, I found myself kept awake by a constant rumble outside our room. By 3am frustration gave way to curiosity, and I slipped out of bed to investigate.

Stepping out into the muggy autumn night, I soon discovered the source of the noise: a bus depot, full of empty coaches, each with its engine on pumping air conditioning over vacant seats.

I walked over to the illuminated waiting drivers’ room (which, while as refrigerated as the coaches, was at least populated) and asked about the running engines. The driver nearest to me responded in broken, but eager, English, that, for what he got paid, no man could make him to wait through the night heat for passengers.

After a friendly chat, I agreed that it was unreasonably hot and returned to bed (passing a collage of environmental efficiency certificates then spluttering black exhaust fumes en route).

All this got me thinking. This was, after all, just one forgotten bus depot at the far end of Europe. How many more were there like it across the country, or across the continent for that matter? What was the carbon footprint of Europe’s idle fleet of coaches?

Suddenly, I realised the illicit nature of my thoughts. After peering over to check if my wife was still asleep, I resolved to do some research from the safety of my office back in Sweden.

A few weeks later, this is what I found:

According to official statistics, in 2009 there were around 300,000 buses and coaches driving around the EU.

When such vehicles are at rest their engines consume, on average, two litres of diesel per hour, which costs around  2.8 and emits 5.4kg of C02 into the atmosphere.  Now multiply these figures by 300,000. That comes out to a staggering 1,600 tons of CO2 and  840,000 EUR per day, and does not even include additional air-conditioning or heating).

Of course, these totals rest on the assumption that the EU’s buses have their engines running for an average of an hour a day.  Yet, judging by Stockholm, this premise does not seem so unlikely. Here, in the supposed Environmental Capital of Europe, I am confronted daily by similar scene to that of the Portuguese depot: row upon row of tourist coaches, parked outside the Royal Palace, all with their engines humming for hours on end (in this case, to keep the drivers warm – this is Sweden after all!)

Surely this is a waste that can, and should, be avoided.

When will we see hybrid coaches plugged into public charging stations or District Heating and Cooling hubs at bus depots?

The latter system has been adopted by Swedish airports operator in 2009. It is forecasted that by 2020, all 14 of Swedavia’s airports, will produce zero emissions.

Now, if only the same could be said about the coaches! But, why not start to act. Initiative   to act within the EU or why not look at the Clinton Climate Initiative on Transportation.

Kaj Embren



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