Switzerland has taken bold decisions to gradually phase out nuclear power and to reduce by a fifth its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 with domestic measures only. These are challenging objectives, and the country now needs to identify the most viable ways to meet them at least cost and minimum risk to energy security.
In the absence of nuclear power, maintaining sufficient electricity capacity will require strong policies to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. Such measures have already been outlined, but they will likely not be enough. For baseload generation, gas-fired power plants would be the simplest option. Treating their CO2 emissions the same way as in the neighbouring countries would be a strong positive incentive for investors.
Because Switzerland’s energy-related CO2 emissions come mostly from oil use in transport and space heating, action is most needed in these areas. Commendably, the country is making polluters pay by using a CO2 tax for financing decarbonisation efforts in space heating. Stronger efforts will be needed to reduce emissions from private car use, however.
Since the 2007 IEA energy policy review, Switzerland has made clear progress in electricity market reform. Moving to a fully open market by 2015 would be a further positive step. The system of regulated end-user prices, however, is subsidising electricity consumption at a time when low-carbon power supply is becoming more constrained and expensive. It should be reconsidered. Switzerland should also continue to take an increasingly European approach to developing its electricity infrastructure, to its own benefit and to that of its neighbours.