18.04.2023 | Swiss wind energy: getting the locals on board

Wind power – yes please!

For some, wind turbines are a blot on the landscape. For others, they have something majestic. Attitudes toward wind energy widely diverge. The expansion of wind energy in Switzerland is important. It delivers urgently needed winter power. To promote acceptance, participation models would allow local residents to profit directly.    

On many occasions, the Swiss population has voiced its support for the highest possible domestic power production. This is also the case in a study published by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL)  at the beginning of this year. The desire for more self-sufficiency comes as no surprise. The war against the Ukraine and the related upheavals on the energy markets have sharpened consciousness regarding the delicate supply situation. Our country is dependent on imports, particularly in the winter when water levels sink and the hydropower plants produce less electricity. Photovoltaics also produce less electricity during the winter season with the exception of alpine solar power, which will be strongly expanded in the future. However, that alone will not be enough.  

A promising candidate for more winter power production lies so to speak in the air: little noticed wind energy. Up to two thirds of annual production falls into the cold season – an optimal technology to compensate the seasonal lows in solar and hydropower generation.

Axpo moving forward 

However, reservations toward wind power persist in Switzerland, as indicated in the WSL study. According to the survey, the Swiss population is even more sceptical toward wind power today than it was in the past. At the same time, photovoltaics have gained more acceptance. The sceptical attitude toward wind energy only partially correlates with the experience made by the Axpo subsidiary CKW in direct contact with local residents.  

CKW has been operating a 120-metre high wind power plant at Lutersarni in the Entlebuch since 2013. Currently, it is the only Swiss wind power plant in the Axpo portfolio. This will change in the future. Axpo intends to significantly expand wind power to increase security of supply. The project at Lindenberg on the borders of the cantons Aargau and Lucerne is already in a well advanced stage and under realisation together with AEW and SIG. In addition, five more wind farm projects in Central Switzerland are in the planning stage. Approximately 20 turbines will someday produce clean electricity for over 30,000 households. 

St. Florian's principle 

In the past year, CKW has informed residents on projects in towns with potential locations. The strengths and weaknesses of wind energy, as well as the required process steps and clarifications before a wind power plant can be built were explained. The process involves wind measurements taken over several months, as well as various environmental impact assessments regarding bird flight, bat populations, ground water, shadowing or aviation.

"The local reception for wind energy was high at these initial information events," says Rafael Mesey, Head of New Energies at Axpo Group. At the same time he says: "However, the more concrete a project at one's own doorstep becomes, the more often opposition arises." This increasingly familiar phenomenon of "yes, but not here" was formerly know as St. Florian's principle. Today, it is more commonly known as Nimby: Not in my backyard! 

Six wind turbines with an installed capacity of 25 MW in central France: the turbines have been producing electricity since 2022 thanks to citizen participation
More acceptance through participation 

All the more important, that a regular at eye-level exchange with the local population takes place. Otherwise, Switzerland will be unable to realise its wind power potential. And potential is not lacking here. However, information and exchange is not enough. "We want to get local residents on board for current projects through participation in the same way that our German affiliate Volkswind has been successful," adds Rafael Mesey. With a financial stake, local residents can make the wind plant in their backyard their "own" and proportionately benefit from the profits. Local participation models could also become the ideal solution for a higher acceptance of wind energy so that its security of supply potential could effectively be realised.   

Rafael Mesey, Head of New Energies at Axpo Group
Switzerland is not a wind country – or maybe yes? 

"Switzerland is not a wind country" is an often heard criticism. In comparison to coastal areas in Germany or Denmark that would hold true. However, we do not compare domestic photovoltaic potential with that of Spain or Portugal. Nevertheless, solar energy is well accepted today. We do not even need to look to typical wind countries. Austria, which is an alpine country like Switzerland, is a good example. Twelve percent of the power mix already comes from wind energy. In Switzerland it is less than 0.5 percent. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) has clarified the assumption that Switzerland is not a suitable wind country in its latest calculations. Progress in turbine technology are the main driver of this greater potential. 

Proportion of wind energy in power production

 

Switzerland is the tail light: In Switzerland less than 1% of electricity comes from wind energy. (Source: Suisse Eole)

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