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Switzerland's Energy Strategy 2050: Repeating Germany's Mistake?

With the vote of May 21, the debate about new nuclear in Switzerland is closed for many years to come. Nevertheless, the ban on building new NPPs can be considered more of a “pro forma” law, because in any case, new nuclear plants were not planned in the near future mainly for economic reasons. Also, the Swiss utilities currently do not have the financial resources and the balance sheet to stem such a huge upfront investment. In order for new nuclear projects to make a comeback, the government energy policy would need to change with regards to nuclear power or carbon-free generation, similarly to the UK, before something can happen. This would have also been the case if the vote would have been “No” last Sunday. The big difference with the “Yes” is that we cannot even expect any discussion on the topic any time soon.

For the existing plants, there is no limitation of operating life. Some anti-nuclear groups still want to change this fact and reduce and/or limit the life-time of existing plants “on top” of the “Yes” vote of last Sunday, but it is questionable if there will be a majority for such an initiative.

It is neither necessary nor sensible to put the country before a choice between renewable energy and nuclear power, because it is wrong. The choice is not between renewables and nuclear power, because what is meant by everybody when saying “renewable” is solar PV and wind. And solar PV and wind cannot replace nuclear power. The choice is between fossil fuel fired power plant capacities and nuclear power. The Swiss government tried to avoid the debate about fossil fired capacity under all circumstances in the run-up to the vote, although the government agencies have been deeming new gas turbine power plants in Switzerland necessary for security of supply reasons (especially in winter). It went so far that government documents mentioning the need for gas turbines “disappeared” from some official websites. Some opponents of the Energy Strategy and some journalists tried to bring the topic up, but the broad public is not aware of this. In our opinion, if the public had really had an understanding that Solar PV and wind do not contribute to security of supply and that fossil fired capacity is necessary to replace nuclear capacity, then the energy strategy would have been approved by a much closer margin or even rejected.

Successful decarbonization has been achieved in the past by European countries like Sweden, France, Belgium, Finland and Switzerland – each time with expansion of nuclear power. The expansion of new renewable capacity in Denmark, Spain, Germany and Italy only had a little effect on the decarbonization. The UAE is on the path of a massive addition of carbon free electricity per capita, and the country is achieving this by building 4 new nuclear power units!

Now, the Swiss Energy Transition is sure to repeat the same mistakes of “Energiewende” made in Germany, even though all the facts are now already very clearly visible for everybody to see.

We are expecting to see a lot of negative effects in Switzerland over the next decade:

  • Continued promotion by the government of the myth that conventional base-load capacity can be replaced by solar and wind capacity, although this is clearly false
  • Long-term guaranteed (20 years) and very high subsidies for volatile generation technologies like solar and wind leading to massively higher costs for not much additional electricity, stifling innovation.
  • More import dependency from Germany (fossil) and France (nuclear), especially in winter as well as destabilization of the grid, increasing the risk for black-outs.
  • Increasing or not reducing carbon emissions
  • Increasing electricity prices for end-consumers, while smaller consumers pay more than larger consumers, making the energy transition counter-productive and unsocial.
  • All the while, the government will try to keep up the appearance that it can “steer” the energy and electricity supply towards renewables. The will have little or no success, but a huge apparatus of inefficient government agencies and subsidised industries will be built up as unintended consequence.

The result of Sunday’s vote is nothing short of a disaster for the Swiss people, economy and the environment.

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