High mountains quickly freeze Switzerland’s green energy dream


In the upper part of the Swiss Alps, even if there is still snow in mid-June, workers are still installing photovoltaic panels on the surface of the highest dam in Europe.

Switzerland has long enjoyed a reputation for clean energy: with the help of abundant hydropower, less than 10% of the electricity it produces emits greenhouse gases. Today, however, Switzerland’s complex regulatory procedures and local opposition to potentially obtrusiveness mean that new green projects such as the Muttsee Reservoir have become the exception.

As a result, one of the richest and most environmentally conscious societies in the world is in danger of going backwards.Switzerland is also about to become more dependent on imported energy because it faces increasing risks and it may decouple from the EU grid, thanks to The increasingly fierce diplomatic struggle with Brussels.

The government promised to shut down three nuclear power plants in the country in the next ten years or so. When this happens, Switzerland will lose a third of its current power generation, and no one knows how to make up for this gap.

“The idea of ​​the project is actually trying to show what is feasible,” said Christian Heierli, project leader of Axpo, the Muttsee AlpinSolar project power company.

Axpo hopes that this facility, which uses 320 tons of materials to transport materials to 2,500 meters above sea level by helicopter, will demonstrate the solar energy potential of Switzerland.

“Really only a few large-scale [renewable] Projects in Switzerland,” Haerley said. He added that obtaining permits to build solar and wind farms is almost impossible. “Apart from people installing photovoltaic panels on their roofs, nothing else happens. ”

Bern recognized that it had problems. According to data from the Swiss Energy Foundation, a think tank on renewable energy, last year, the per capita solar and wind power generation in Switzerland was only 311 kWh. In contrast, Denmark produced 3,027kWh, Germany produced 2,232kWh, and Britain produced 1,304kWh.

The solar panels installed in the Muttsee Reservoir are usually located above the cloud line, even in winter © Axpo

Experts warn that the potential of new hydroelectric power plants, which account for 58% of the supply, is small and that upgrading existing facilities will only increase production by a small amount.

Meanwhile, Switzerland last month Long-term negotiations rejected A new framework agreement was reached with Brussels to codify its vast network of bilateral treaties.

As a result, last Thursday, the first of several treaties governing the links between Switzerland and the EU energy market lapsed. Although it is unlikely that Switzerland will be disconnected from the EU grid unless a permanent agreement is reached with Brussels, the country faces risks of rising energy costs and uncertain supply.

Since Switzerland’s energy production is seasonal, this will be particularly burdensome: in winter, as the river freezes, it relies more on energy imports to meet demand.

Christian Schaffner, director of the Energy Science Center at ETH Zurich and a former senior official of the Swiss Federal Department of Energy, said: “We just don’t know how the power exchange will work with the EU in five or ten years.” “This It’s a big uncertainty.”

Increasing domestically produced renewable energy may help. Due to the geographical environment of Switzerland, solar and wind energy can work well in winter. For example, in the Axpo Muttsee project, solar panels will generate 50% more electricity per square meter than the valley below. Cooler temperatures increase efficiency, snow reflects light back to the panel, and the site is usually above the cloud line. Many potential sites have such features.

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The country has the potential-at least in the field of solar energy-to become a leader in Europe. But without a more flexible regulatory environment, there are few opportunities for new projects.

“The regulatory framework must be fundamentally adjusted to increase the expansion of renewable energy,” said Guido Lichtensteiger, a spokesman for Alpiq, one of Switzerland’s largest power companies.

Last month, Bern announced a series of proposed legislative reforms in an attempt to stimulate more renewable energy projects. However, for many people, these proposals only fix the problem and do not solve the country’s complicated approval procedures, which are deeply rooted in Switzerland’s highly decentralized political system.

A typical construction project for a new power plant requires a permit from the Berne Environmental and Energy Regulatory Agency, and then a permit from the state government where it is located.

A public building permit is also required. As with all buildings in Switzerland, one person can object. Legal disputes can last for several years, and sometimes even cost huge sums of money to reach the Supreme Court.

In October, Turbine finally started Windpark Gotthardpass, one of Switzerland's largest renewable energy projects. But it took 18 years of negotiations to achieve results.
In October, Turbine started Windpark Gotthardpass, one of Switzerland’s largest renewable energy projects.But it took 18 years of negotiations to achieve results © Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

In October, Turbine finally started Windpark Gotthardpass, one of Switzerland’s largest renewable energy projects. But it took 18 years of negotiations to achieve results.

In the 2017 referendum to approve the government’s 2050 energy target, Swiss voters strongly supported more construction plans. Berne’s plan envisages the construction of more than 850 wind turbines in the country over the next 30 years. Currently, there are only 37.

But so far, little progress has been made. After the local village rejected these proposals, plans to build four turbines in Kulmerau-Kirchleerau were recently cancelled.

“Wealthy Switzerland is a stronghold of the local opposition, which is usually interpreted as a federalist tradition,” the Zurich-based NZZ newspaper wrote.

“A lot of the public [awareness] Doesn’t exist,” ETH’s Schaffner added, adding that there is a difference between Switzerland’s principled support at the national level and the local reality of the new construction.

“[It] It’s fun when you think. .. We built all these dams in the Alps a few years ago, but now we don’t want to. You may have to talk to a behavioral scientist to understand why this is the case. ”

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