06.12.2019 | National Fund researchers: An important role for hydropower

Switzerland should rely on solar energy

According to the Energy Strategy 2050, hydropower plays an important role in the planned restructuring of power production in Switzerland – and has gained in importance as a reliable, "reserve energy". This is the finding of a National Fund study “Energieinfrastrukturen der Zukunft" (Energy Infrastructures of the Future). What’s more: Solar energy has more potential than wind energy in Switzerland say the researchers from the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and the University of Basel.

In the next decades, the Swiss power mix will become increasingly defined by renewable energies. This is the intention of the Energy Strategy 2050 adopted by Swiss voters. However, new renewable energies from wind and sun are strongly dependent on the weather. Could power demand be covered if it were cloudy, rainy, or windless? And, is the Swiss power grid equipped for these changes.  

Researchers from the University of Basel and the ETH pursued this question in a Swiss National Fund project where they investigated the potential for renewable energies and whether supply security could be ensured.

More uncertainties – more reserves

In contrast to the nuclear power plants still in operation, solar energy and wind power cannot deliver uninterrupted base-load electricity, so that at times power demand would not be fully covered. In order to avoid such critical situations, grid operators must allocate sufficient reserve energy. The volume of available reserves is therefore an important key for reliable grid operation.

According to researchers' calculations, these reserves can be achieved with hydropower up until the year 2050. Hence, hydropower will continue to be a crucial factor for reliable power supply in Switzerland.

Supporting solar energy

The researchers also have clear answers on which renewable energies will play a significant role aside from hydropower – and it is solar energy. Solar outpaces wind power in important ways. In summary:

  • Solar energy is more easily available and predictable than wind power. This makes it possible to set aside smaller reserves in the case of shortages.
  • Solar energy is less expensive than wind power. In addition, the energy generated by solar panels on buildings can be used directly by households and companies. This frees up the power grid.

According to the study, solar panels covering a roof surface of approx. one million single family homes would have to be installed in order for solar energy to make a decisive contribution to the future power mix. The largest space for these types of installations is in Western Switzerland, particularly Geneva, Lausanne and Berne.

To support solar energy, building laws would have to be adapted accordingly. Policy-makers must ensure that these laws are formulated to promote the installation of solar panels on roofs.

More on the National Fund study

Intelligent power grid

The energy turnaround will change power generation in Switzerland and also presents new challenges for the power grid. Can the grid even handle the large volumes of renewable energies from wind and sun?

Yes, say researchers from the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). However, today the Swiss power grid is not designed to cope with the anticipated strong fluctuations. The gird must be adapted to prevent power peaks that can result in line overload and jeopardise power supply stability.

They have developed an intelligent system to equip power grids for fluctuating power production from solar energy and wind power:

  • A building on the EPFL campus demonstrates how inert loads can be used to balance out power fluctuations.
  • The new system enables local grid areas to regulate fluctuations autonomously and, at the same time, contribute to the stability of the entire power grid.

More information on the EPFL Studies, conducted under the National Research Programme here.


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