IEA warns of challenges from Swiss nuclear phase-out

09 October 2018

Switzerland's phased withdrawal from nuclear power presents challenges for maintaining its electricity security, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in a report it published yesterday. The report, Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Switzerland 2018 Review, says Switzerland made important progress on energy efficiency, as the country's energy consumption was at the same level in 2016 as it was in 2000, even though its population grew by 15% and its economy expanded by 30%.

BKW's Mühleberg plant is due to shut next year (Image: ENSI)

But, the Paris-headquartered agency said, achieving the country's emission reduction targets for 2020 looks ambitious based on current trends, and additional climate policies are urgently needed for the post-2020 period to help achieve the country's binding 2030 climate goals.

"Switzerland has the lowest carbon-intensity of its energy supply among all IEA countries thanks to a largely carbon-free electricity sector dominated by hydro and nuclear generation. However, with the country's 2017 decision to gradually phase-out nuclear power, Switzerland faces a considerable energy-sector transition in coming decades," the IEA said in a statement to accompany the report.

"Although the country's Energy Strategy 2050 maps a way towards a low-carbon economy with higher energy efficiency and renewable energy sources replacing nuclear energy, more ambitious reforms in the energy sector are needed to address security of supply questions," it added.

Further investment in hydropower should be encouraged through a reform of the water royalty linked to electricity market prices, it said, but Switzerland will be increasingly relying on imports from its European neighbours to meet electricity demand, especially during the winter months when low water levels impact production from hydro plants.

Switzerland's hydro capacity can also function as a battery for the growing share of variable renewable energy in Europe, the IEA said.

"Fully opening the Swiss electricity market and the complete integration into the European electricity market will be central to meeting Switzerland's future energy needs,” said Paul Simons, the IEA deputy executive director, who presented the report in Bern, Switzerland.

"The IEA encourages the Swiss government to bring ongoing negotiations with the European Union on an electricity agreement to a successful outcome as both Switzerland and the EU will gain access to flexible energy supplies," he added.

Switzerland's CO2 levy on fossil fuels and its automatic upward adjustment in case intermediate emission targets are not met, has proven highly effective in shifting energy demand from oil towards gas and renewables, and supporting investments in energy efficiency, he said.

"The CO2 levy represents a best policy practice example to inspire other countries," said Mr Simons, "but transport fuels are exempt from the CO2 levy and emissions in that sector are actually growing"

Switzerland voted in a referendum in May 2017 to approve a revision to the country's energy policy that promotes the use of renewable energy sources and energy conservation. The revised Federal Energy Act also prohibits the construction of new nuclear power plants.

A new Swiss energy policy was sought in response to the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Two months later, both the Swiss parliament and government decided to exit nuclear power production. The Energy Strategy 2050 initiative drawn up by the Federal Council calls for a gradual withdrawal from nuclear energy. It also foresees expanded use of renewables and hydro power but anticipates increased reliance on fossil fuels and electricity imports as an interim measure.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News