Why is the deployment of new renewable energies so complex in Switzerland?
Renewable energies face a number of obstacles that hinder their widespread dissemination: public reluctance, lack of qualified manpower to implement them, high investment costs, resistance to change resulting from the inertia of the existing energy system.
Public reluctance to implement renewable energies is an important limiting factor for their widespread adoption in Switzerland. As renewable energies are highly decentralised, they give rise to fears of negative impacts. Not without reason; geothermal energy can induce micro-earthquakes, biomass can emit unpleasant odours, wind turbines and hydroelectric power plants have a significant impact on the landscape, etc. In principle, the Swiss are generally very much in favour of new renewable energies. However, when a project takes place close to home, the situation is often different…
It must be acknowledged that the proponents of some projects have made planning and communication errors, which have caused outcry in some regions, particularly with respect to wind energy. The implementation rate in wind energy currently remains below 10% for projects that have received a positive decision from the Confederation to participate in the RPC support programme (see below). Fair arbitration criteria, participatory and transparent procedures, and honest and comprehensive communication on the part of the project sponsors are necessary in order to gain the support of the populations concerned.
The development of new renewable energies involves the installation and maintenance by specialised workers of millions of pieces of complex technical equipment, requiring a good knowledge of the standards in force (heat pumps, solar installations, electronic heating control, pellet stoves, etc.). However, this workforce is largely lacking in Switzerland; in 2013, for example, there will be a shortage of almost 14,000 qualified engineers and technicians. This state of affairs will have to be remedied quickly, in particular by strengthening the appropriate training courses. Otherwise, the deployment of new renewable energies will be massively slowed down. In addition, the systems we will be importing will remain expensive and uncompetitive due to a lack of critical judgement on the part of importers and distributors (e.g. the heat pumps available on the Swiss market have poor energy efficiency on average), or will be poorly installed and will not function properly (up to 25% of solar thermal systems in Switzerland do not function or function poorly).
Add to this the problem of high costs. “Green electricity” in Switzerland, whether it comes from photovoltaics, small-scale hydropower, biomass or wind power, is more expensive to produce than electricity from conventional large power plants [→ Q64]. In principle, the federal feed-in tariff remuneration system (RPC) programme can lower this barrier. However, this programme has only limited funding, which has the effect of restricting the spread of renewable technologies [→ Q79], especially since the administrative authorisation procedures are often very lengthy. In addition, the financial conditions offered by the RPC are less attractive than those offered in several European countries at a comparable stage of development. As a result, several large Swiss electric companies consider it more advantageous to invest in wind and solar farms abroad than in Switzerland, even though these companies are mostly in public hands [→ Q88].
In addition, the increasing injection into the grid of electricity produced in a decentralised and intermittent manner (wind and solar) will require major technical adaptations of the electricity grid and the creation of new storage capacities [→ Q67]. However, the current framework conditions and very low electricity prices are generally detrimental to such investments [→ Q70]. In addition, there are several technical solutions to achieve these improvements: grid reinforcement, smart grid solutions, local storage in batteries or centralised by pump-turbine, or even “power to gas" [→ Q69] and [→ Q74]. Each has advantages and disadvantages, making the options more complex and not conducive to decision-making.
As far as heat is concerned, its production from renewable sources (heat pumps, solar thermal, wood pellets) is generally profitable without subsidies [→ Q64]. Moreover, it does not give rise to any particular reluctance. However, the long service lives of existing water heaters and heating systems (oil or gas boilers, direct electric heating) delay the switch to renewables. These installations are renewed only every 15 to 20 years on average. As for investments to replace a fossil fuel boiler (oil or natural gas) or direct electric heating with wood heating or a heat pump, they can be significant. All this explains why only less than 1% of existing buildings convert to renewable heat each year [→ Q82].
- International Energy Agency (IEA) (2019)
- International Energy Agency (IEA) (2019). Renewables information: overview.
- Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2019)
- Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2019). Schweizerische statistik der erneuerbaren energien, ausgabe 2018.