Technology is there, but not yet the market
The Swiss energy strategy is the only one worldwide to have been approved by voters – and therein lies its value, says Rolf Wüstenhagen, professor of Renewable Energies at the University of St Gallen.
On May 21, 58% of voters in Switzerland endorsed a new energy law that aims to promote renewable energy, phase out new nuclear power plants and lower energy consumption.
In terms of what will happen next, the technologies for renewables are there, says Wüstenhagenexternal link, but they just need to be brought to market.
swissinfo.ch: Will Switzerland be able to make its energy transition without coalfired power from Germany and atomic energy from France?
Rolf Wüstenhagen: I am confident it can after this very clear yes vote.
swissinfo.ch: And will the country have enough energy in the future, also in winter?
R.W.: I think so, as there are many solutions for this. The country has a lot of hydropower, which can contribute to seasonal storage. I’m talking about normal reservoirs here, which can be filled before winter.
swissinfo.ch: So we need more reservoirs?
R.W.: This depends on how power generation is expanded. If there was just solar energy, there would be wide seasonal fluctuations: so a lot of energy in summer and a lot less in winter. A mix of solar and wind power would be a lot better because the wind blows more in the winter.
swissinfo.ch: Is there potential in solar technology?
R.W.: In principle, the technology is already mature, the potential lies in its wider use. There could be a lot more solar cells on Swiss house roofs. In Bavaria the solar power share rose from 1% to 12% within a decade. This type of electricity was very generously supported in the beginning, but over time the cost of photovoltaics has dropped so much that it is now actually cheaper for homeowners to produce their own electricity.
swissinfo.ch: But you need batteries for this.
R.W.: Yes and this development is being very strongly driven by electromobility. Tesla is making advances, and other battery manufacturers are investing strongly. The trend is towards mass production, this reduces the costs, as we have seen over the past years with photovoltaics. In both cases the technological developments have increased efficiency – with mass production reducing the costs.
swissinfo.ch: What about wind power? Big wind farms are hardly conceivable in Switzerland.
R.W.: There isn’t really much room, but there are good locations. Overall the technical conditions are good, the big challenge lies how to convince residents in such a densely populated country.
swissinfo.ch: Where else is there potential?
R.W.: The really great potential lies in buildings and transport. There are now the first houses that produce more energy than they use. But here also the challenge is not the technology but how to bring the existing possibilities to the market. You have to ensure that when building you adhere to the current technical standards and not those of 20 years ago.
swissinfo.ch: How does Switzerland, a small country in Europe, compare with other countries who are also making an energy transition?
R.W.: It’s always the case in a direct democracy, it all happens a little slower but much more thoroughly. The Swiss energy strategy is not the most ambitious in Europe at the moment, but it is the first, and until now, the only one, which was been directly approved by the people. Therein lies its value.
Translated from German by Isobel Leybold-Johnson ,