16.11.2022 | The Power Switcher simulates the future of the Swiss electricity system

How much solar is there in our energy future?

Without electricity imports, Switzerland would soon experience blackouts. Photovoltaics can only meet a small fraction of the demand. You often hear claims like this when discussion turns to security of supply. But which are true? And which are based on false assumptions? The Axpo Power Switcher makes it easy to simulate claims like this – and test their accuracy. Axpo Energy Economist Lara Lück explains how the tool works.

Lara Lück, in a nutshell, what exactly is the Axpo Power Switcher tool?

The Power Switcher is an interactive tool that makes it easy and enjoyable for users to find out what the Swiss electricity system of the future could look like. It allows you to evaluate whether the demand for electricity can be covered by domestic production and potential imports up to 2050, or whether we might not have enough electricity and – to put it bluntly – the lights might go out. Users can decide for themselves how many systems are built. You can adjust these parameters very easily with a slider. For example, you can select how many photovoltaic systems should be set up. 

The Power Switcher provides answers to the question of Switzerland’s future electricity supply.

And the Power Switcher then supplies the results of this.

Exactly. And it immediately shows how much electricity is generated with each scenario, and whether it could result in a blackout. This means you can play around with a huge range of scenarios. Or you can examine the ones we already have. The Power Switcher already contains the future visions of various national councillors, the Swiss industrial sector and the Federal Office of Energy, stored as presets. It’s exciting to take a good look at them and draw comparisons!

Why did Axpo develop the Power Switcher? What was the motivation behind it?

Axpo wanted to develop a tool that would allow anyone to develop their own informed opinion. Take politicians – they’re always having to bring figures into their debates. For example, the amount of energy Switzerland aims to generate with photovoltaics in the future. Not all of them have a team of experts they can call on to work through these kinds of calculations. But the Power Switcher makes it so easy.

And the public watching these debates – how do they benefit?

On talk shows, for example, you often hear statements that are difficult to verify. For example, someone might say that Switzerland is not dependent on electricity imports, or that photovoltaic systems don’t really help. With the Power Switcher, viewers can quickly and easily enact these claims and see if there is any truth to them.

So you don’t have to be an expert to use the Power Switcher?

No. Along with politicians, our target audience is the interested general public. So as long as you are interested in this area, you don’t need to be an expert at all to use the tool. Major research institutes and associations have developed their own simulation tools to calculate the security of supply in Switzerland. The Power Switcher was explicitly designed to be accessible to the general public. 

‘You don’t need to be an expert at all to use the tool.’
Lara Lück, Energy Economist

And users who explore the Power Switcher will most likely have the odd lightbulb moment.

For Axpo it is very important that the Power Switcher allows users to better understand how to join the dots. It is an illusion to think that security of supply will remain cheap, and that somehow we can remain independent of other countries, emissions-free, with no domestic expansion. We have to compromise somewhere. If we had a solution like that, we wouldn’t be having these discussions.

What can the Power Switcher actually do? What can be individually configured and calculated?

Plenty! In addition to the existing scenarios we’ve already looked at, which you can examine in detail, you can also set the number of power generation plants to build, change the demand for electricity over time, and determine how much to import from the EU. You can also select good or bad weather conditions for generating electricity using photovoltaics and wind turbines.

How accurate are the calculations from the Power Switcher?

To get the tool running efficiently online, we had to make a few simplifications. But we did thorough checks and established that, even with these simplifications, we are still getting correct results. Axpo and ETH Zurich’s Energy Science Center joined forces for a study in which ETH carried out calculations with its large simulation model, while we used the Power Switcher. Naturally there are minor discrepancies – but overall the Power Switcher comes very close to the results from large models, which makes it ideal for initial estimates.

The Power Switcher is undergoing constant expansion and further development. What new features can we expect?

We have a few ideas up our sleeve! For example, we want to answer short-term questions around the current energy crisis, like how will power supply develop if we have less gas available? Or what impact do nuclear power failures in France have on Switzerland’s security of supply? We will also be adding other existing scenarios. We are working hard on our ideas and look forward to rolling them out!

You can find the Power Switcher here

Note: this interview was conducted for the Smart Media ‘Fokus Energie & Nachhaltigkeit’ supplement, and was published as a supplement to the 18 October issue of the Tages-Anzeiger.

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