What risks are we taking if we don’t act quickly enough?
The longer we delay in deciding on a course of action, the fewer options are available and the higher the overall cost of the transition may be. Energy systems generally have a high degree of inertia, and not all options can be achieved at the same pace. Some will require more time than others.
The implementation of energy efficiency measures takes a relatively long time, as it depends on the replacement rates of our energy-using equipment: electrical appliances (5-10 years), cars (12 years), heating systems (20 years) or the renovation of our buildings (30-50 years).
The widespread dissemination of renewable energy technologies will also take time: in the order of 20-30 years in Switzerland. In order to use the full potential of renewable energies, hundreds of thousands of systems will have to be installed, which will require administrative permits and, in some cases, legal proceedings.
The use of solar energy (thermal and photovoltaic) could be relatively rapid. The situation is likely to be more difficult for wind and small-scale hydropower, due to possible opposition procedures [→ Q48]. Heat pump sales have been declining since 2008 and deep geothermal energy is not yet mature [→ Q61].
As for the electricity grid, it will have to evolve and adapt to the multiplication of new decentralised sources of energy [→ Q67]. Finally, one of the most crucial issues for the development of renewable energy is the development of new solutions for electricity storage.
On the other hand, gas-fired power plants could be built within a much shorter time frame, in the order of 2 to 3 years for each plant. In addition, it is possible to increase imports at any time by sourcing on the European electricity market. The advantage of this option is that no specific new infrastructure development is required, neither power plant nor power grid development, apart from reinforcing the transmission lines at the borders.
The timeframes for the implementation of these different options therefore differ widely and remain partly uncertain. On the other hand, the deadlines for our energy transition are known: phasing out of our nuclear power plants from 2019 and an ambitious commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. At the same time, our electricity import contracts with France expire between 2018 and 2035. So time is running out.
The longer we delay, the less that renewable energies and energy efficiency will be able to contribute to the transition, given the slow pace of their implementation. In other words, the longer we delay developing these solutions, the more we will be forced to rely on gas-fired power plants and imports for our electricity supply.
Delayed decisions could also result in higher costs. For example, if renewable energies and energy efficiency develop too slowly due to a lack of political will, we could increase the construction of gas-fired power stations. But the profitability of these plants could be seriously compromised, as they will be used less and less as renewable energies and energy efficiency are developed sooner or later.
Finally, the total bill for the energy transition is expected to amount to 0.9% of our GDP. But the cost of the impacts of global warming could prove to be much higher. The European Union estimates it at 1.8% of its GDP (by 2100), a figure that should not a priori differ significantly for Switzerland. The cost of inaction is therefore potentially twice as high as the cost of action.
- Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2013)
- Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2013). Perspectives énergétiques 2050.