LOS ANGELES, July 3 – Switzerland faces challenges as it seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth by 2020 while phasing out nuclear power, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.
Though the IEA report applauds Swiss electricity market reforms and high levels of oil and gas security, it foresees difficulties for a planned stabilization of electricity demand.
“The transition to a low-carbon economy is not for free,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in Bern as she presented Energy Policies of IEA Countries – Switzerland 2012 Review.
“In the absence of nuclear power, maintaining sufficient electricity capacity will require strong policies to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy,” van der Hoeven said.
The accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 had a far-reaching impact on energy policy in Switzerland, with government deciding not to replace existing nuclear facilities and to phase out nuclear power altogether.
The government is now preparing new legislation, scheduled to come into effect at the beginning of 2015, which would focus on improving energy efficiency and increasing electricity generation from hydropower, as well as other renewable sources and natural gas.
But van der Hoeven said the proposed legislation would not be sufficient to meet Switzerland’s energy requirements.
“The government has already proposed measures, but they will likely not be enough,” she said. “Switzerland now needs to develop the legal and regulatory framework as a core of its Energy Strategy 2050 to provide stable, long-term conditions for energy market participants.”
The IEA report notes that Switzerland has significant cross-border electricity flows and that its reservoir and pump-storage hydropower plants could act as “a battery” for the wider region.
“The country should continue to take an increasingly European approach to developing its electricity infrastructure, to benefit both the Swiss and their neighbors,” the IEA report said.
The report encourages Switzerland to move to a fully open electricity market by 2015, and to reconsider the system of regulated end-user prices now subsidizing electricity consumption at a time when low-carbon power supply is becoming more constrained and expensive.
Deregulating end-user prices and shortening and simplifying licensing procedures would also encourage investments in electricity grids and generating capacity, the IEA report said.
Because Switzerland’s energy-related CO2 emissions come mostly from oil used in transport and space heating, the report highlights those areas as priorities for action.
To its credit, Switzerland is using a CO2 tax to make polluters finance de-carbonization efforts in space heating but IEA said that, “stronger efforts” will be needed to reduce emissions from private car use.
Current Swiss policy requiring gas-fired power plants to offset CO2 emissions undermines competitiveness and drives up abatement costs in relation to neighboring countries.
IEA said that a “more level playing field” would encourage investments and improve Switzerland’s security of electricity supply.
“Changing the energy system in the decades to come will also require efforts in energy technology research, development and demonstration,” IEA said, adding that the government should maintain plans to “double public funding” for these activities.
© Glamma Productions Inc. 2012