IEA commends Switzerland for its energy policy reforms, but sees more room for higher energy efficiency and use of renewable energy

(Berne) — 26 November 2007

“Switzerland has made impressive progress in its energy policy over the past few years,” Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said today in Berne at the launch of Energy Policies of IEA Countries – Switzerland 2007 Review. “Electricity market reform is an important step for Switzerland and its neighbours. Furthermore, Switzerland is making laudable progress on nuclear waste management, and it continues to show leadership in its long-term policy to shift freight transport from road to rail.” But there is still more to do. ”Improving electricity supply and further reducing CO2 emissions in the future remain key challenges,” Mr. Tanaka said.

Electricity supply: set more favourable investment conditions and improve efficiency of electricity use
Switzerland foresees an electricity supply gap starting to widen in the late 2010s and early 2020s. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are projected to cover only part of this gap. As the government wishes to avoid dependence on electricity imports, Switzerland is left with the option to build more nuclear and/or gas-fired capacity. Both face uncertainties.

The process to build new nuclear power plants is long (about 16 to 18 years in Switzerland) and new construction might face a referendum. “The government has plans to streamline the licensing procedure, which is good,” Mr. Tanaka said. “As all decisions should be based on facts, we think the government should continue to inform the citizens on the various aspects of nuclear power.”

Constructing gas-fired power plants is challenged by the current CO2 regime. Mr. Tanaka pointed out that “Switzerland has allocated its quota of cheap emissions reductions from the Kyoto mechanisms unevenly across sectors, strongly favouring the use of transport fuels at the expense of electricity generation and industry”. This renders gas-fired power generation projects uneconomic. “These distortions should be removed,” Mr. Tanaka stressed and he called for more favourable conditions for investment but also improved efficiency of electricity use.

CO2 emissions: adopt new measures to reduce emissions also after 2012
Switzerland seems to be on track to meeting its target for reducing greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol. “Kyoto, however, is just the first step and must be followed by a more ambitious international agreement. The real challenge is yet to come and lies in the post-Kyoto period," observed Mr. Tanaka.

Switzerland is more dependent on oil than most industrialized countries. Oil is also the source for some 77% of Switzerland's CO2 emissions. Oil use must be tackled to reduce emissions. Efforts should be focused on transport and space heating, the biggest users.

The government´s policy to promote switching to alternative heating systems is to be commended, but low taxes continue to make oil heating in Switzerland very cheap by international comparison. More alarmingly, the trend for emissions from private cars and light-duty vehicles is unsustainable and the voluntary system in place, the Climate Cent, does not provide sufficient incentives for change. “Switzerland should act now and adopt measures to promote low-emission vehicles and more efficient use of oil,” Mr. Tanaka said. Many such measures were suggested in the draft action plan on energy efficiency by DETEC (Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications). 

Increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy
“We think that whatever electricity supply option Switzerland chooses, and whatever measures to reduce CO2 emissions the country applies, a stronger focus on energy efficiency should always be part of the process. And more can be done to increase the use of renewable energy,” said Mr. Tanaka. “We are telling all countries that they can, and they should, aim much higher.”

The draft action plans on energy efficiency and renewable energy (published in September 2007) provide a solid basis for promoting their further development. Commendably, the draft plan on energy efficiency is broadly in line with the IEA´s recommendations to the Group of Eight, which were endorsed by the IEA Energy Ministers in May 2007.

Renewable energy should be promoted as well, not only in electricity generation but also in space heating. Large-scale use of renewable energy in the transport sector should be based on life-cycle analysis of its costs and benefits.

Switzerland’s world-class energy R&D is focused on more than halving energy needs per capita by the second half of this century. “This ambitious goal needs to be supported by consistent policies on energy efficiency and climate change,” Mr. Tanaka concluded.


Latest articles