Can soft mobility and teleworking help reduce energy demand?

Soft mobility and teleworking offer a significant potential for energy savings: in the range of 1 to 2 TWh per year, or between 2 and 4% of our consumption for people mobility. These are essentially fossil fuel savings (petrol, diesel).

The term “soft mobility” refers to travel without motorisation, or with low motorisation: walking, cycling (traditional and electric), scooters, etc. On average each year, each Swiss citizen travels 37 km per day. Out of these 37 km, approximately 2.5 km per day are covered in “soft” non-motorised mode. This figure has hardly changed since 2000 on a national scale, but some cantonal studies show a strong increase in soft mobility, especially in urban areas. In Geneva, for example, soft mobility now accounts for 52% of all travel.

Today, soft mobility already saves about 5 TWh of energy per year, but it still offers largely untapped potential. About half of all motorised journeys made in Switzerland today are for distances of less than 5 km. To a large extent, these short journeys could be made using soft modes, so that a reduction target of 6 to 15% of car journeys seems realistic. This reduction potential takes into account limiting factors such as weather conditions, topography obstacles, the presence of accompanying persons (children, etc.) or luggage. This would correspond to a reduction of 1 to 3% in our total fuel consumption, i.e. a saving of 0.5 to 1.5 TWh per year.

As for teleworking, it consists of working at home (as a rule one day a week), rather than going to one’s usual place of work. Teleworking is an old idea, now feasible on a large scale thanks to the advent of information technology (connection of almost all households to high-speed Internet, access to the necessary computer hardware and software, etc.). Teleworking mainly concerns employees working in offices.

According to an estimate by EconomieSuisse, about 450,000 employees in Switzerland could and would be willing to telework. This figure does not take into account the public administration sector, which also has very large potential. In the experience of countries that have long practised it (especially the USA), teleworking is helping to increase labour productivity. It also results in energy savings, mainly due to the reduction in the number of car journeys and the reduction in the average size of offices through the sharing of workstations. To date, no study has specifically assessed the energy savings that teleworking could bring to Switzerland. A rough estimate provides an average fuel saving of 0.25 TWh per year, or at most 0.5% of the annual consumption of our car fleet (52 TWh). This is not much, but it is explained by the fact that only 24% of our journeys are made between home and work, the rest being spent mainly on leisure activities (44%) and shopping (13%). Only 10% of the working population could theoretically practise teleworking, one day a week. Although limited, this potential remains largely untapped, as teleworking is currently an exception rather than the rule.

In addition, teleworking offers a significant, induced benefit, since it can relieve some of the demand for transport during peak hours. Widespread teleworking may avoid the need to increase the capacity of the overall transport infrastructure, since it is sized for peak load.


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