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Switzerland's Energy Strategy 2050: Repeating Germany's Mistake?

Wolfgang Denk's picture
NGO Energy for humanity

Wolfgang Denk is the current European Director of the NGO Energy for Humanity. By profession he is a mechanical engineer working in the power plant and utilities sector since 2001. He managed...

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  • May 25, 2017

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With the vote of May 21, the debate about new nuclear in Switzerland is closed for many years to come. Nevertheless, the ban on building new NPPs can be considered more of a “pro forma” law, because in any case, new nuclear plants were not planned in the near future mainly for economic reasons. Also, the Swiss utilities currently do not have the financial resources and the balance sheet to stem such a huge upfront investment. In order for new nuclear projects to make a comeback, the government energy policy would need to change with regards to nuclear power or carbon-free generation, similarly to the UK, before something can happen. This would have also been the case if the vote would have been “No” last Sunday. The big difference with the “Yes” is that we cannot even expect any discussion on the topic any time soon.

For the existing plants, there is no limitation of operating life. Some anti-nuclear groups still want to change this fact and reduce and/or limit the life-time of existing plants “on top” of the “Yes” vote of last Sunday, but it is questionable if there will be a majority for such an initiative.

It is neither necessary nor sensible to put the country before a choice between renewable energy and nuclear power, because it is wrong. The choice is not between renewables and nuclear power, because what is meant by everybody when saying “renewable” is solar PV and wind. And solar PV and wind cannot replace nuclear power. The choice is between fossil fuel fired power plant capacities and nuclear power. The Swiss government tried to avoid the debate about fossil fired capacity under all circumstances in the run-up to the vote, although the government agencies have been deeming new gas turbine power plants in Switzerland necessary for security of supply reasons (especially in winter). It went so far that government documents mentioning the need for gas turbines “disappeared” from some official websites. Some opponents of the Energy Strategy and some journalists tried to bring the topic up, but the broad public is not aware of this. In our opinion, if the public had really had an understanding that Solar PV and wind do not contribute to security of supply and that fossil fired capacity is necessary to replace nuclear capacity, then the energy strategy would have been approved by a much closer margin or even rejected.

Successful decarbonization has been achieved in the past by European countries like Sweden, France, Belgium, Finland and Switzerland – each time with expansion of nuclear power. The expansion of new renewable capacity in Denmark, Spain, Germany and Italy only had a little effect on the decarbonization. The UAE is on the path of a massive addition of carbon free electricity per capita, and the country is achieving this by building 4 new nuclear power units!

Now, the Swiss Energy Transition is sure to repeat the same mistakes of “Energiewende” made in Germany, even though all the facts are now already very clearly visible for everybody to see.

We are expecting to see a lot of negative effects in Switzerland over the next decade:

  • Continued promotion by the government of the myth that conventional base-load capacity can be replaced by solar and wind capacity, although this is clearly false
  • Long-term guaranteed (20 years) and very high subsidies for volatile generation technologies like solar and wind leading to massively higher costs for not much additional electricity, stifling innovation.
  • More import dependency from Germany (fossil) and France (nuclear), especially in winter as well as destabilization of the grid, increasing the risk for black-outs.
  • Increasing or not reducing carbon emissions
  • Increasing electricity prices for end-consumers, while smaller consumers pay more than larger consumers, making the energy transition counter-productive and unsocial.
  • All the while, the government will try to keep up the appearance that it can “steer” the energy and electricity supply towards renewables. The will have little or no success, but a huge apparatus of inefficient government agencies and subsidised industries will be built up as unintended consequence.

The result of Sunday’s vote is nothing short of a disaster for the Swiss people, economy and the environment.

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Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on May 29, 2017

So what`? this does not decrease the knowledge in from the masters degree in elertonics, on which topic I work. It just shows tha ability to study two masters degrees at once. You have to understand things faster to do so.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on May 29, 2017

I can see the difference as good as you can, always telling that – whatever fits to your argument then, germany expors either 100% wind and solar power or 100% lignite power.
So eat your own dog-food of arguments here.

And you are not the only one who was best in school in mathemathics here. And I am ontributing here to stopp other people trolling around with fake facts.
Uncorrelated is wind power production, solar podution on the other hand is corellated with the time of day, but very reliable when larger areas are considered. The sun shows up for work every day.

About nuclear power, well, france had some problems to help out last year, you remember there aree some problems with faked cetificates and anomalies in pressure vessels and other parts? So a lot of nuclear was shut down in france, too, overlapping with the closures in swizerland. And in parallel some nuclear power in germany was shut down too, some according to shedule, some outside of it.
Worldwide average capaicty factor of nuclear is 0,75, and it seems to become lower with aging plants.And some failures with nuclear have a common cause, so making the outages corellated.
And I am not ashamed to tell facts about prices which you know as well, but insist to ignore.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on May 29, 2017

Well the owners of the power plants will have noticed it, due to rising losses from nuclear. But you can buy swiss nuclara stations at 1€ per piece if you like. The utilities are not eager to keep them.
But the rest – consumers, business, etc, didn’t notice. It#s not important for swizerland if nuclear is producing or not.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 29, 2017

Yes, the German disease of no borders, no currency, no defense, no sovereignty, and no energy is obvious.

Just to correct a comment below; Hitler didn’t attack Switzerland because they had no oil. He directly sent his forces after North African and Russian oil. They never made it back to what was left of home.

We live in an era of adolescent children talking like adults. Tragic to see so many innocent victims.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on May 29, 2017

If you would know something about statistics, you’d know that the dams will be full most of the time, beside the lulls for which they are kept as backup.

I happen to both understand statistics and something about hydro. As I said, I live in Sweden which actually has hydro, you know, for real. Whereas you have lignite mines. I’m aware that the dams are mainly filled during the spring floods after which water is mainly depleted until next spring. I’m also aware that there are good hydrological years with a lot of water and bad ones with significantly less water. You seem to think all hydro is pumped with no limits.

And, as I mentioned, I live in Sweden, and we were not eager about North Stream 2. On the contrary, the agony with which Swedish politicians handled North Stream 2 was considerable. We don’t like getting Russian vital interests that close, and we earn nothing from it. It’s part of the reason we’ve had to militarize Gotland again. But in the end, it’s not our business, but that of our big brother Germany. Why would we oppose something Germany really wants and needs?

Again, you’re not very realistic if you don’t see Germany could’ve easily stopped this project, but it’s not very surprising Merkel pretends she cannot. Politicians often play that game.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on May 29, 2017

30% more than almost nothing is still almost nothing.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on May 29, 2017

The 108 coal plants won’t “close in short”. What you present is just a paper that thinks it would be a good idea. Germany closing some lignite plants should be ok considering North Stream 2’s immense capacity to supply Germany with natural gas.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on May 29, 2017

Germany’s power generation from renewable sources is flatlining, according to a leading solar research institute.

Solar, wind, biomass and hydropower sources produced 186TWh in 2016, or 34% of net electricity supply, analysis from the Fraunhofer Institute shows – showing no increase from the previous year.

That was partly down to the weather: sunshine hours were down 4% and wind 14% from 2015 levels, lead researcher Bruno Burger told Climate Home.

A clampdown on subsidies also hit installations of solar panels, he said. “For wind, it was only weather conditions; for solar, it was weather and policy.”

With nuclear and coal generation in decline, the big winner was natural gas, which surged more than 40% on cheaper supplies.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on May 29, 2017

Thanks, interesting info.


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