Swiss energy strategy relies on imports and gas

01 October 2012

Residents will see their electricity costs rise as Switzerland makes more use of fossil fuels on its way to phasing out nuclear power under the country's proposed new energy strategy.

The new strategy for Swiss energy to 2050 has been released for public consultation by the country's Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication (DETEC). According to DETEC, the strategy will ultimately enable the country to reduce per capita consumption of energy and electricity, reduce the share of fossil fuels and replace nuclear power with energy efficiency measures and renewable energy. However, to achieve those goals the strategy says Switzerland will need to rely on imported energy and electricity and to develop fossil-fuelled combined heat and power plants and combined cycle gas turbines, at least as an interim measure.

The proposed strategy makes reducing energy and electricity consumption its first priority, followed by decreasing the proportion of fossil fuels in the Swiss energy mix, and expanding the use of hydroelectricity and renewables. The Swiss Federal Council wants to see annual per capita energy consumption 35% below 2000 levels by 2035, with electricity consumption - currently increasing - stabilised by 2020.

Generation from hydroelectricity and renewables is to increase: targets see annual production of at least 37,400 GWh of hydroelectricity and 11,940 GWh of electricity from renewables by 2035 (Switzerland generated 35,420 GWh of hydroelectricity and 1,380 GWh from renewables in 2010). The strategy recognises that the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation and combined heat and power plants may also need to increase.

Meanwhile, the average Swiss household can expect its annual electricity bill - currently around CHF 890 ($950) - to go up, reflecting the production costs of renewable electricity, investments in the grid to support the new power system and also some slight increases in public taxes. Large consumers will receive tax exemptions in order to protect the country's economy.

In a country where local and national referenda play a pivotal role in policy and decision-making, the strategy directs that Swiss cantons, or states, must delineate areas for the development of renewable energy and that steps should be taken to expedite the construction of renewable energy installations. A new law will specify that renewable energy development is in the national interest and that this consideration must be seen as "equivalent or superior to" environment and landscape protection interests.

The strategy document will now be open for a public consultation period that will end on 31 January 2013. A second draft strategy, including environmental tax reforms, will be drawn up in 2014 for further public consultation.

The Swiss government decided last year to phase out the five nuclear reactors which generate 40% of its electricity in response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan by not replacing them with new nuclear capacity at the end of their anticipated working lives. This would effectively see all of Switzerland's nuclear power plants shut by 2035. However, DETEC has already estimated that phasing out nuclear energy will cost it around CHF 30 billion ($33 billion) by 2050. A review by the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently highlighted the difficulties that the country will face in trying to achieve its carbon dioxide reduction goals while attempting to phase out nuclear power.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News