Switzerland’s ‘Challenging’ Energy Policy


Switzerland faces many challenges in its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions while also phasing out its use of nuclear power, the International Energy Agency (IEA) remarked after reviewing the country’s energy policy.

The country aims to reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% by 2020. Meanwhile, the Swiss parliament resolved not to replace any of its nuclear power reactors at the end of their operating lives in response to the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011. “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,” the IEA said.

“The transition to a low-carbon economy is not for free,” said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven. “In the absence of nuclear power, maintaining sufficient electricity capacity will require strong policies to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. The government has already proposed measures, but they will likely not be enough.”

The agency noted that Switzerland’s energy-related CO2 emissions come mostly oil used in transport and space heating. It therefore highlighted these areas as priorities for action. While it praised the country for introducing a CO2 emissions tax to make polluters finance decarbonization efforts in space heating, the IEA says that “stronger efforts will be needed to reduce emissions from private car use.”

However, the IEA suggests that Switzerland’s current policy requiring gas-fired power plants to offset CO2 emissions “undermines competitiveness and drives up abatement costs in relation to neighbouring countries.” It said that “a more level playing field would encourage investments and improve Switzerland’s security of electricity supply.”

While applauding Swiss electricity market reforms, the IEA “foresees difficulties for a planned stabilization of electricity demand.” It suggests, “Moving to a fully open market by 2015 would be a further positive step.” It also calls for Switzerland to “continue to take an increasingly European approach” to developing its electricity infrastructure, “to its own benefit and to that of its neighbours.”

The IEA concludes that the country now needs to develop the legal and regulatory framework “as a core of its Energy Strategy 2050 to provide stable, long-term conditions for energy market participants.”

Switzerland’s five nuclear reactors currently generate some 40% of its electricity. Given operating lifespans of 50 years, the first Swiss reactor to shut could be Beznau 1 in 2019, followed by Beznau 2 in 2021. Taken together these smaller units would remove only 730 MWe from supply. Another 372 would be lost with the shutdown of Mühleberg around 2022. The largest units are Gösgen with 985 MWe and Leibstadt with 1165 MWe, which would likely close in 2029 and 2034 respectively.

Switzerland’s decision not to build any new nuclear generating capacity will cost the country some CHF 30 billion ($33 billion) up to 2050, according to the country’s Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.

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