What are the main strategic options for phasing out nuclear power?

Switzerland has four complementary strategic options for phasing out nuclear power. Three of these are to replace the 24 TWh of nuclear power with other sources of electricity: electricity from renewable sources produced in Switzerland (the “renewable” option), the siting of gas-fired power plants in Switzerland (the “gas-fired” option), and the import of electricity (renewable and non-renewable) from abroad (the “import” option). The fourth option aims to reduce power consumption through energy-efficiency measures (the “energy efficiency” option).

With regard to the “renewable” option, the development of renewable sources of electricity could eventually provide 24 TWh [→ Q63]. This development will require major improvements to the electricity infrastructure to ensure that green solar power can be fed into the grid and stored. In addition, the potential for electricity generation from wind, biomass and small hydropower should be successfully exploited, while developing deep geothermal energy. This option also involves the use of heat from renewable sources, in particular from biomass and the use of environmental heat (via heat pumps), to replace the heat production of direct electrical heating.

The “gas-fired” power plant option could, in theory, be carried out relatively quickly. However, such plants would not be profitable under current electricity market conditions, making it unlikely that investors would commit to such facilities. Several factors explain this lack of profitability, including the currently very low electricity prices and the costs resulting from the legal obligation for operators of these gas-fired power plants to fully offset their CO2 emissions, at least half of which are in Switzerland [→ Q89]. Decentralised natural gas cogeneration units (such as fuel cells) are a very attractive alternative to large gas-fired power plants, particularly from the point of view of energy efficiency.

The “import” option would weaken our energy independence without guaranteeing long-term price stability and security of supply. It would also be possible to invest in power plants abroad, but this would not strengthen security of supply in the event of a shortage [→ Q88].

The “energy efficiency” option has the potential to reduce our electricity demand by some 16 TWh in 2050 compared to a development without efficiency measures (our electricity demand will continue to grow because of the electrification of our society) [→ Q8]. This option is interesting from an economic point of view because it is often cheaper to avoid consuming a kWh than to produce one, but it is also strategic because it increases our energy independence. However, these measures may take some time to take effect, given the slow pace of infrastructure and equipment renewal.

These four generic options are by no means mutually exclusive. In fact, the Federal Council combines them in its 2050 Energy Strategy, referring to four “strategic axes”. This federal strategy advocates using the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energies as a matter of priority and developing gas-fired power plants or, if that is not enough, importing [→ Q86]. Other underlying axes are also inseparably linked to the federal government’s energy strategy, namely the expansion of the electricity grid, energy storage, the strengthening of energy research, the increased role of the public authorities as an example, and the intensification of international cooperation.

All these policy options aim to expand or improve the quality of energy supply. Of course, we could also consider reducing our electricity consumption, not by increasing energy efficiency, but by reducing our demand according to the principle of energy moderation (by consuming less!). Even if such measures do not drastically reduce our consumption, they are nevertheless essential strategic components in developing a culture of rational energy use [→ Q99].


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