What does energy transition mean?

In Switzerland, the energy transition is defined as the period from 2011, following the Fukushima nuclear accident, to 2035, or even 2050. During this period, our energy system will undergo fundamental changes, following the decision of the Federal Council and Parliament to abandon nuclear power and the commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

An energy system comprises all the infrastructures and modes of production, processing, distribution, storage and use of the various forms of energy, as well as the framework conditions governing its operation.

The process of energy transition is mainly the result of political choices and therefore varies from country to country. For nearly a century, our energy system has been relatively simple. It had a limited number of energy agents, with separate supply chains; we imported petrol and diesel for driving, oil and natural gas for heating, and generated our electricity at large hydraulic and nuclear power plants.

Now the situation has changed. The risks of global warming, the spectre of fossil-fuel depletion, the Fukushima nuclear accident, and geopolitical risks are profoundly transforming the energy landscape. In this context, Switzerland is working to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, while having opted to abandon nuclear energy. At the same time, our total energy consumption continues to grow, even though this increase tends to stabilise.

Thus we are faced with a number of challenges that our current energy system is not able to respond to and that require adjustments to be made [→ Q2]. Therefore, within a very short period of time (20-30 years) we will have to:

  • combine efforts of moderation and energy efficiency while maintaining services;
  • stimulate the adoption of new energy sources;
  • rethink their routing, distribution, and storage;
  • adapt the framework conditions governing the current energy market.

Whatever strategy is implemented to address these challenges, the resulting energy system will be far more complex, interconnected and diverse than it is today. The transformation of our energy system is therefore an essential step in ensuring that Switzerland has a secure, sustainable and economically accessible energy supply for all, as provided for in our Constitution.