Energy transition: what are the consequences for citizen-consumers?

The framework conditions of the energy system will change, and so will the way we use energy. Some of our habits are likely to change, as has happened many times in the past. But we should be able to maintain our current level of comfort without compromising our prosperity. Above all, the success of the energy transition will depend very much on the active engagement of the citizen-consumer.

One of the essential elements of our current energy comfort is the availability of the desired energy service, on demand, in all seasons and at any time of the day or night, at an affordable price. This comfort requires a high degree of security of supply. As long as the new framework conditions move in the right direction, especially the carbon market [→ Q83], the energy transition will contribute to strengthening this security of supply. This will be achieved, in particular, by reducing demand through energy efficiency measures and by diversifying our energy sources as a result of the development of new renewable energies in Switzerland.

A crucial aspect for the success of the energy transition is the active involvement of citizens. In the traditional, centralised energy system, consumers played a relatively passive role. However, the construction of a much more decentralised system, increasingly based on renewable energies, will require “citizen energy”, i.e. active participation by citizen-consumers; for example, by investing in renewable energy production co-operatives. Or by becoming direct producers; building owners will be able to generate and consume their own solar electricity, and will be increasingly encouraged to do so for economic reasons [→ Q64]. As energy efficiency and building quality improve, they can also aim for a certain degree of autonomy for heating and domestic hot water [→ Q32].

In addition, the full liberalisation of the electricity market, which is a stated objective of the Federal Council, with an initial report for the quarter of 2020, will allow citizens and small businesses to freely choose their electricity supplier (a right currently reserved for large consumers). This liberalisation should not have a significant impact on the ultimate cost [→ Q97]. On the other hand, individual consumers will be able to choose the origin of their electricity, and be supplied exclusively, for example, with electricity from renewable sources, or according to a specific geographical origin, depending on what is offered on the market. Citizens will thus be able to directly support the production of electricity that they consider the most sustainable. This new situation will, of course, be a double-edged sword, as consumers will also be able to obtain electricity exclusively from coal-fired power stations in Germany, especially if this remains the cheapest source.

We will also see the gradual phasing out, in the medium to long term, of certain technologies that are not very efficient (direct electric heating, halogen lamps, etc.) or have a high impact on the climate (oil heating) [→ Q25], [→ Q26], [→ Q42]. Consumers will be encouraged, through labels, new standards, etc., to make more thoughtful, intelligent choices (“smarter” in fashionable terminology), particularly with regard to mobility, food, and the purchase of new equipment [→ Q41].

In this context, mere consumer acceptance of new energy options (e.g. gas-fired power plants, wind, deep geothermal, etc.) will not be enough to make the energy transition happen. Its success will depend on the option chosen and the active participation of citizen-consumers in the implementation of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.