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Swiss energy perspectives (updated)

Swiss electricity needs are met with a combination of hydroelectric power, Swiss nuclear power plants, and imported electricity generated by French nuclear power plants. Hydro power is maxed out, Swiss nuclear power plants are aging, and long-term purchasing agreements with the French start to expire in 2020. The solutions proposed by the electricity business establishment rely on "business as usual" assumptions, with no mention made of Peak Oil.

These are the conclusions that emerge from a perusal of articles on the Swiss energy market that appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of the magazine Business Guide to Switzerland. The authors of the articles include Dr. Katharina Stampfli (Managing Director swisselectric) and Silvan Merki (Axpo Holding AG), as well as an interview with Kurt Rohrbach (CEO of BKW FMB Energy Ltd). These people represent the existing commercial establishment, so it is not surprising that Peak Oil is not mentioned.

Current Swiss power consumption is about 58 Twh, and is predicted to grow at a rate of 0.7-1.5%. Because Switzerland currently produces about 65 Twh, they have a net excess that is exported to the European grid. Because a significant fraction of Swiss electricity is hydroelectric, they export power in the summer and import it in the winter.

Over 40% of Swiss electricity is generated in nuclear power plants within Switzerland, some of which are nearing the end of their useful life (Muehleberg, Beznau 1 +2). When they are shut down, combined with anticipated growth in demand, the Swiss will no longer be able to cover their needs with their current power infrastructure.

From 2020 on, a supply gap of 1,000 MW is assumed, which will need to be covered by some combination of power import, alternative energies, gas combination power plants, extension of hydroelectric generation, or replacement of the nuclear power plants. Climate politics are expected to play a decisive role in what choices are made. Additionally, in 2020, Swiss power import contracts with Electricite de France (EDF) will start to expire.

The opening of EU markets for gas and electricity is changing the power landscape and creating uncertainty. The EU gas and electicity markets were opened for industry and trade in 2005, and will open in 2007 for private customers. The Swiss market will also be deregulated, apparently by 2012.

Axpo commissioned a study which examined high growth and low growth scenarios, which were defined to bracket the expected range of growth rates. Winter power supply gaps were predicted in 2012 and 2019 for the high and low growth rate cases, respectively. Even considering power import contracts, there will be a 10-21 Twh power gap in the winter months starting 2030-2031, which corresponds to 27% and 44% of expected consumption.

The Swiss are almost fully utilizing their hydroelectric resources and estimate that future capacity additions will be on the order of 2% of current generation. The opportunities for large hydroelectric power stations have been nearly exhausted.

Axpo intend to meet these future needs by investing CHF 100 million up to 2010, upgrading and renewing its hydroelectric stations over the next ten years, constructing gas combination power station, and building a new nuclear power plant in Switzerland.

Axpo will also increase energy efficiency by reducing peak demand, reducing distribution losses, and upgrading power plant efficiency.

Axpo also intends to rely on the importation of power from gas-fired, coal-fired, and nuclear power plants in neighboring countries, although a graphic shows that power from EDF is expected to dwindle to nothing by about 2040, presumably representing expiration of the current contracts.

The opportunities for renewable energy (aside from existing hydroelectric) to meet demand are seen as limited, due to issues such as ecological considerations, cost (photovoltaics and small-scale hydro), technological limitations (geothermal), and weather-induced variability (PV and wind). Although geothermal could theoretically meet a significant fraction of Swiss power needs, it is not yet at the pilot plant stage.

Editorial Notes: Reader S graciously compiled this summary on Swiss energy. A few minor edits were made. Many thanks! Updated Nov 15: Another reader, LD, sent in some stories about Swiss energy from the English-language Swiss Info website: Energy debate reignites in parliament Nuclear reactor to stay online Greens slam plans for new nuclear plants Voters throw out nuclear ban Energy consumption reaches new heights Nuclear waste debate heats up An article dated Nov 1 discussed drilling in Switzerland itself: Hunt resumes for oil and gas in Switzerland. UPDATE Nov 17: Swiss reader AB pointed out the website of Swiss economist PhD Rudolf Rechsteiner, who is a Member of the Swiss Parliament, Basel Switzerland. Dr. Rechsteiner spoke as the ASPO conference in Lisbon (text of speech: Peak Oil: What Can Politics Do? (PDF). Other articles in English: Ten Steps to a Sustainable Energy Future (PDF) Petroleum and Violent Conflicts: Strategies for Industrialized Countries (PDF) Many articles are also available from the publications page in German, including the full text of his recent book, "Grün gewinnt." -BA

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