17.04.2019 | Switzerland ranks second in the WEF's "Energy Transition Index"

A climate-friendly energy system

Swiss hydropower and nuclear energy production is very low in CO2 and therefore climate-friendly. The latest Energy Transition Index by the World Economic Forum (WEF) also indicates: Switzerland is also at the forefront in matters of energy efficiency.

In the beginning, it was US Vice President Al Gore who made a media-effective impact. Today it is "climate rebel" Greta Thunberg and Swiss students: They are concerned about global warming, taking to the streets, demonstrating and demanding "net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030" for Switzerland.

Where do we stand in terms of CO2 emissions?

Recently the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" (NZZ) referred to us as "a model student" but only "at first glance". When looking only at the greenhouse gas emissions produced in Switzerland we are in a good position in the international comparison. However, if we include the energy footprint for industrial goods imported from abroad, the picture becomes much bleaker (see box at the end).

Switzerland has the lowest CO2 intensity among the 30 member states of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Emissions per head are over 50% lower than those of OECD states. Despite population growth (+23%) and a positive gross domestic product (+47%), CO2 emissions from fossil fuels dropped by 12 per cent between 1990 and 2017.

The Beznau nuclear power plants is low in CO2 emission
Climate-friendly power production

The most greenhouse gas emissions, about one third, come from traffic, followed by emissions from buildings (heating), industry, agriculture and waste management. An important factor for the overall positive footprint is the relatively high energy efficiency of the Swiss power mix

In power production, for which Axpo as the largest Swiss producer of renewable energy bears responsibility, the CO2 picture looks very good. In Switzerland 59.6% of electricity is generated from hydropower, 31.7% from nuclear power, 2.7% from fossil fuels and 6% from other renewable energies. The figures are based on statistics from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) for the year 2017. This means that 97% of domestic power production is low in CO2 and therefore climate-friendly.

Production mix is not supply mix

The power delivered to electrical outlets does not only come from Swiss production: Through active international trading, power is exported and imported. As a result the Swiss production mix (see main text) does not coincide with the average power mix delivered to households (Swiss supply mix).

In 2017, about 68% of the power delivered to Swiss outlets was from renewable energies (2016: 62%): Of this volume, 60% came from large-scale hydropower and about 7% from photovoltaic systems, wind, small-scale hydroelectric and biomass. Nuclear energy made up 15% and about one per cent came from waste and fossil energy sources. The source and mix of about 16% of delivered power cannot be verified. This power is referred to as "grey energy". These are the findings in data on fuel mix disclosure from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) for the year 2017.

WEF praises Switzerland

In the "Energy Transition Index 2019" published by the WEF at the end of March, Switzerland has moved up to second place. The country is at the top in terms of investments in energy efficiency. The index benchmarks countries in terms of the performance of their energy systems and willingness to transition to a sustainable, affordable energy mix.

Sweden ranked first. As compared to the previous year, Switzerland was able to overtake Norway. Finland and Denmark followed in fourth and fifth place. The report points out that in advanced economies the transition to sustainable, more efficient energy use is only developing slowly. In contrast, the 10 countries scoring highest in readiness for transition have only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

"We need a future in which energy is affordable, sustainable and available to everyone," comments Robert Bocca, Head of Future Energy and Materials and a Member of the WEF Executive Committee. However, existing deficiencies are already impacting our climate and society today. As a result "urgent measures are necessary" to drive this transition forward.

Gigerwald reservoir, part of Krafterke Sarganserland, owned 98,5 % by Axpo
Staying on the ball

Switzerland also received top marks from the International Energy Agency (IEA) for its energy policy, particularly in the area of energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable energy sources. However, in its October 2018 audit report the organisation points out that regulatory framework conditions must be developed in order to achieve a restructuring of the energy system that aligns with of climate policy goals. The IEA recommends reviewing the continuation of subsidy measures for renewable power and building efficiency and coupling water rates to the power market price. In addition, the organisation advocates full liberalisation of the Swiss power market.

At the same time, the IEA warns that the winter peaks in power consumption could be a danger for system stability. The difference between electricity demand and power production in Switzerland has increased during this season in recent years. This trend will continue when nuclear energy is phased out.

Emissions abroad

According to calculations by the NZZ, Switzerland imports a great deal of CO2-intensive products and produces more CO2 abroad than domestically. An analysis by the ETH Zurich shows that 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 95 per cent of particulate emissions from the manufacture of Swiss products by the engineering, electrical and metal industry occur in foreign supply chains.

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