Switzerland aims to transform its energy sector radically, and in August 2019, it set the highly ambitious goal of cutting the CO2 emissions to zero by 2050. This developed country, which is located at the heart of Europe, was already standing out among the other industrialized nations regarding climate change mitigation. It has the lowest carbon intensity among all IEA member countries. (1) Now Switzerland is getting ready to improve its already impressive stance on climate change.
The Swiss Government has made noteworthy decisions in the last few years to further strengthen the country's stance on climate change and curb CO2 emissions. The new Energy Act, which has entered into force on the 1st of January 2018, is one of the most significant legislation that drives the nation's energy transition. According to the Energy Act (2), the average energy consumption in 2035 shall be 43 percent lower than the level in 2000. If this figure is realized, it will mean that an increased population will consume less energy due to the efficient utilization of energy resources. Besides, it is forecasted that the average domestic production of renewable energy excluding hydropower will be at 11'400 GW hours in 2035. Hydropower, which has been traditionally one of the two major sources of electricity generation in Switzerland and nuclear energy, is planned to generate 37'400 GW hours of electricity in 2035.
Getting rid of nuclear energy is another focal point of the Swiss energy transition; according to IEA data (3), nuclear energy provided around 30 per cent of Switzerland's electricity from 1990 until today. However, since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, there has been strong opposition against this energy source in Switzerland, and a few years ago, the Government took action against it. In 2017, Switzerland decided to decommission all nuclear energy reactors in the country gradually. Hence, no new nuclear energy reactors will be constructed in the country, and the existing ones will be shut down after completing their service periods. The first nuclear power plant, a 47-year-old nuclear power station in Mühleberg, had already switched off in December 2019. (4) The remaining four reactors (i.e. Gösgen, Leibstadt, Beznau I, Beznau II) will follow over the next years.
After considering the explanations mentioned above, it is seen that Switzerland wants to achieve radical CO2 emission reduction goals, and it wants to achieve it without nuclear energy. Here solar energy will be an energy source that will gain importance. A study by the Paul Scherrer Institute, conducted within the Joint Activity "Scenarios and Modelling" of the eight Swiss Competence Centres for Energy Research (SCCER) (5), shows that drastic development in the Swiss photovoltaic sector is needed to achieve the goals mentioned above. The study suggests until 2050, the installed capacity of solar energy must more than double every decade, reaching 26 terawatt-hours of production in 2050. Therefore, solar energy will become the second-largest source in the energy mix after hydro energy. Such growth in solar energy is not impossible but requires massive investments and political determination.
Certainly, Switzerland is not the first country to set ambitious climate change mitigation goals. We have seen many similar actions from both other governments and international agreements to limit climate change. I believe the key to attaining success in such endeavors is persistence and determination. The example of how the United States shifted its environmental policies under the Trump administration still serves as a bitter reminder of how one president can damage years of hard work. Nevertheless, in Switzerland, all components of the Government seem committed to the goal of reaching zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Hopefully, the country will consistently pursue this goal without the interruption of an irrational administration.
One last additional point worthy of note would be the importance of diversification in the Swiss energy transition. As mentioned above, the Swiss Government wishes to decommission nuclear energy and focus more on hydropower and solar energy. The growth of solar energy could definitely yield benefits for Switzerland, but uncertainties like the problems with solar batteries remain; thus, it will be much logical to diversify the sources and invest in other renewable energy resources, such as biomass and wind energy.
1 Iea, “Switzerland - Countries & Regions,” IEA, March 11, 2015, https://www.iea.org/countries/switzerland.
2 See for more information: Swiss Federal Office of Energy SFOE, “Energy Strategy 2050,” Swiss Federal Office of Energy, accessed April 17, 2021, https://www.bfe.admin.ch/bfe/en/home/policy/energy-strategy-2050.html.
3 Iea, “Switzerland - Countries & Regions,” IEA, March 11, 2015, https://www.iea.org/countries/switzerland.
4 Peter Siegenthaler, “How Switzerland Is Dismantling Its First Nuclear Power Station,” SWI swissinfo.ch (swissinfo.ch, December 20, 2019), https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/radio-inactivity_how-switzerland-is-dismantling-its-first-nuclear-power-station/45443302.
5 Paul Scherrer Institute, “Switzerland's Energy Transition,” ScienceDaily (ScienceDaily, March 8, 2021), https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210308084243.htm.