In a study led by the École Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Western Swiss University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HES-SO), researchers modeled the Swiss energy system under the hypothetical constraints of carbon neutrality and energy independence for the year 2050.
The results obtained are promising, showing that it is possible to meet these two constraints and, at the same time, reduce energy system costs by approximately 30% compared to 2020 levels.
Renewable energy and efficiency, pillars of a sustainable system
The study raises the possibility of achieving an independent and carbon-neutral Swiss energy system by 2050 using currently untapped local renewable energy resources. According to the researchers, this system would be even more economical than the country’s current energy system modeled with the same assumptions, leading to a cost reduction of up to 30-32%.
Although the complete independence of the Swiss energy system is not a goal in itself, the restriction of carbon neutrality by 2050 is in line with the goals set out in the Federal Law on Climate Protection Targets, put to the vote in Switzerland in June 2023.
A model to guarantee security of supply
The scientists used the EnergyScope multi-energy and multi-sector modeling framework to bring Switzerland to a fully energy-independent state. The main objective was to theoretically guarantee security of supply, so the impacts of imports and exports on the system were taken into account. In addition, profitable investment options were generated that meet the demands of Swiss society in terms of homes, transport and industry, focusing on the role of existing or strengthened infrastructure.
According to researchers from EPFL’s Industrial Process Engineering and Energy Systems (IPESE) group, to meet the set targets, Switzerland must boost photovoltaic (PV) and wind electricity generation. An optimal approach would be to cover 60% of Switzerland’s rooftop area with photovoltaic systems, tapping into untapped solar potential in already built-up areas.
Balance between generation and storage to meet energy demand
Since the intensity of the sun and the wind varies throughout the year, it is necessary to find the right balance between electricity generation and seasonal storage to meet the Swiss energy demand at all times, especially during the winter season. The study suggests that solar production, dominated by summer, could be optimally balanced by a deployment of wind capacity, which would produce mainly in winter together with hydroelectricity and biomass.
The models developed in the study reveal the existence of many equivalent solutions and assess their sensitivity to cost uncertainties. In addition, they highlight the interdependence of choices and the impact that technology choices have on other investments and on infrastructure as a whole.
The current Swiss energy system is mainly based on imports, which results in lower costs for the consumer but also in a greater reliance on external resources and technologies. On the contrary, the future model proposed in the study is based on local investment and the use of own resources, which makes it the most economical and resilient option in the long term.
The role of investment and local operation
The researchers underline the importance of investing in local resources and technologies to ensure an independent and sustainable energy system in Switzerland. This implies a change in focus, going from relying heavily on imports to relying on local investment and operation.
The study carried out by EPFL and HES-SO Valais offers a hopeful outlook for the energy transition in Switzerland. The possibility of achieving energy independence and carbon neutrality by 2050, combined with cost reduction, presents a unique opportunity for the country. With an increased focus on renewable energy generation and optimizing the balance between different sources, Switzerland can pave the way towards a more sustainable and resilient energy future.