What is Switzerland’s wind energy potential?

Switzerland’s wind energy potential with current technologies is estimated at 52 TWh, which corresponds to approximately 90% of our national electricity consumption in 2018. However, the realisation of this potential will depend heavily on the degree of acceptance of this technology, particularly by the inhabitants of areas where wind turbines are planned. Taking these criteria into account, the federal government’s long-term objectives are to generate 4 TWh of wind power, i.e. less than 10% of the potential.

Compared to other regions such as northern Europe, the United Kingdom and France, Switzerland has relatively limited wind energy potential. In Switzerland, the most favourable wind conditions are mainly found in the Jura Arc, the Pre-Alps and the Alps. Very interesting conditions also exist on the Swiss plateau, but at slightly higher altitudes.

Switzerland is a small, densely populated area with a unique natural heritage. Wind turbines that are located too close to residential areas or that could have an impact on the landscape that is considered too large must therefore be excluded from the theoretical potential. A crucial point in the wind energy debate is to agree on the meaning of “too large”. As the impact on the landscape is difficult to measure using an objective scientific approach, an assessment based on a weighting between different criteria of a mainly qualitative nature is required.

It was therefore through a broad consultative process, including various organisations active in nature and landscape protection, that the line between the tolerable and the unacceptable was defined. Today, around 100 sites have already been identified throughout Switzerland, on which 700 wind turbines (estimated average output of 3 MW) could be built, producing some 4 TWh of electricity annually.

Nonetheless, the issue of the impact on the landscape remains extremely sensitive. Recent votes on wind farms indicate that the logic of “yes to wind power but not in my backyard” prevails for now. In many cases, the rejection of wind power by local populations could override the national interest and significantly diminish the actual potential of wind power. On the other hand, the recent acceptance by 66% of the Neuchâtelois of wind planning for their canton shows that coordination on a cantonal level is probably the right way forward for the harmonious development of this energy.

Furthermore, it has been shown that ¾ of the residents living near wind farms in Switzerland are in favour of this form of energy and consider the impact of wind turbines on their well-being to be zero or low, and that only 6% of the inhabitants feel strongly affected.

In Switzerland, wind power remains virtually untapped to date. Only 37 wind turbines with a total output of 0.08 GW have been installed in 25 years. In 2018, they will account for a mere 0.19% of our current electricity needs and will place Switzerland among the lowest contributors in Europe, far behind our neighbours (Germany: 60 GW; France: 15 GW; Italy: 10 GW; Austria: 3 GW). The world leaders in wind power remain by far the United States and China, with respectively more than 90 and 200 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2018.


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