Can Switzerland succeed without fossil fuels?

Thought experiment: Switzerland without fossil fuels. Can that succeed?
In winter, the production of solar power drops sharply, but this is precisely when the demand for electricity is highest. How can we close this gap? Credit: Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology

If we want to get rid of fossil fuels nationwide, there is a lot to do. It will be a generation project, that much is clear. Empa researchers Martin Rüdisüli, Sinan Teske and Urs Elber have now calculated how long and steep the road to a sustainable energy system might be; their study was published at the end of June in the journal Energies.

The researchers chose a conservative approach and initially collected real data on , heating requirements and hot water consumption in Switzerland. These data then served as the basis for a . Switzerland's electricity requirements are still quite easy to determine: The Swiss grid operator Swissgrid provides detailed values for every quarter of an hour on every day of the year. Heating and hot water requirements are becoming more difficult. The Empa experts used data from the district heating supplier REFUNA, which supplies several communities in the lower Aare Valley with from the Beznau plant. A data analysis showed that the heat requirement of the connected houses correlates quite well with the outside temperature—and at nights warmer than 18 degrees Celsius, the heat is therefore only used for process water and shower water.

Electrifying heating systems and cars

For their thought experiment, the researchers made various presumptions. Firstly, most Swiss residents behave like people in the lower Aare Valley and live in similar buildings. Secondly, in order to get away from heating oil and natural gas, the heating requirements of all buildings will first be reduced by around 42% through renovation measures; then 3/4 of the remaining heating requirements in houses and apartments renovated in this way will be realised with electric heat pumps. And thirdly: Mobility will be electrified to the extent that approximately 2/3 of all private car journeys can take place electrically, which corresponds to approximately 20% of all kilometres driven. Freight traffic and long-haul journeys, on the other hand, are not so easy to convert, which is why they were excluded from the electrification of mobility in the study.

Nuclear power plants no longer play a role in the Empa study—because the phase-out of nuclear power has been decided since the referendum on the Energy Act of May 2017. Therefore, the researchers expected a strong expansion of photovoltaics; half of all roof surfaces in Switzerland rated as good to outstandingly suitable within the framework of the www.sonnendach.ch project are equipped with solar cells. This corresponds to about one third of all roof areas in Switzerland.

How much does the demand for electricity increase?

Next, the researchers determined the resulting electricity consumption, which is likely to rise by around 13.7 terawatt hours per year due to heat pumps and electric vehicles—i.e. by around 25 percent compared to today. Even more alarming than this significant increase in consumption, however, was the temporal gap between electricity generation and demand: produce the most electricity in summer—but heat pumps and heated cars require a particularly large amount of electricity in winter. This results in a seasonal supply gap.

This could be compensated for by importing electricity from neighbouring countries, as is already the case today in the case of shortages. But our CO2 balance will probably suffer as a result—because electricity from Europe often massively worsens the CO2 balance of Switzerland, which has been so carefully electrified. Heat pumps and electric cars therefore benefit the climate the most if the electricity required for them is also renewable.

What do the researchers suggest?

However, the Empa study also provides some valuable information on how to implement a low-CO2 energy system. Firstly, it makes most sense to replace oil-fired heating systems with heat pumps if the buildings are insulated using state-of-the-art technology. Because a heat pump without appropriate insulation is significantly less efficient. Secondly, each nuclear power plant must be replaced with about eight times the photovoltaic output. Why? A nuclear power plant delivers around 8,000 hours of electricity per year—a solar cell, however, only 1,000 hours. This means a large number of solar panels—on all available surfaces. Thirdly, we need as much storage capacity as possible for solar energy—both local battery storage facilities and pumped storage facilities as well as other storage technologies, in particular (geothermal) heat storage facilities, but also technologies for converting electricity into chemical energy sources. This is because the sun shines strong enough only a few hours a day to fill the storages. For the rest of the time, the stored energy has to last.

Fourthly, we must create seasonal heat storage facilities so that the electricity requirements of the heat pumps can be reduced in winter. Fifthly, we need to better match energy supply and demand. There will be plenty of solar power and heat in summer, but in winter renewable energy in particular will be a rare (and therefore expensive) commodity in the future. Sixthly—and this is the good news: electromobility does not make the balance tilt. Under the assumptions made, the daily charging of electric vehicles at home, at work or when shopping generates only relatively low peaks in demand compared with the electrical heat supply. A prerequisite for this, however, is appropriate networks with sufficient capacity.

If further renewable energies such as wind power, geothermal energy, more biomass and a little more hydropower are realised in winter in the future, the coverage gap will shrink, however, it will probably not be possible to close it completely. The electrification of and mobility alone will therefore not solve the problem. "For the sustainable conversion of our energy system to succeed, we need both short- and long-term—i.e. seasonal—energy storage technologies. That is why we should not play off energy sectors against each other, but keep all technical options open," says Martin Rüdisüli. And Sinan Teske adds: "We must learn from nature how to deal with solar energy, which is not available all year round. We could store as much as possible in summer and limit our needs in winter. Or we could look for partners in the southern hemisphere of the earth who can harvest solar energy and deliver it to Switzerland when winter is here, and vice versa."


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More information: Martin Rüdisüli et al. Impacts of an Increased Substitution of Fossil Energy Carriers with Electricity-Based Technologies on the Swiss Electricity System, Energies (2019). DOI: 10.3390/en12122399
Citation: Can Switzerland succeed without fossil fuels? (2019, July 8) retrieved 18 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-switzerland-fossil-fuels.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
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User comments

Jul 08, 2019
Or you could just stop beating around the bush and reverse the exit policy on nuclear power.

Jul 09, 2019
Euope is living in a protectionist cocoon where they charge each other high prices and pretend the rest of the planet isn't competing with them. One day, the fact their productivity is dying due to things like horrifically-high alternative energy prices is going to catch up to them.

Jul 09, 2019
Therefore, the researchers expected a strong expansion of photovoltaics; half of all roof surfaces in Switzerland rated as good to outstandingly

Correct but not only on "roofs".

Switzerland should invest heavily in solar power farms with associated power-to-gas facilities using summer solar power surpluses to produce hydrogen fuel gas by electrolysis of water.

Use the hydrogen as a feed-stock to make renewable energy methane by chemical (Sabatier) reaction with carbon dioxide.

You can also make bio-methane from upgraded bio-gas which can also be a source for some of the carbon dioxide for the Sabatier reaction. Fermentation is another good source of CO2.

Store the methane and supply it to heat Swiss buildings in winter.

Use pumped hydro for daily grid energy storage

My 100% Renewable Energy Blog
https://scottishs...ess.com/

Jul 09, 2019
If you are short of carbon dioxide (hold that thought) then you can burn your renewable methane in grid power stations to generate electricity to heat homes and capture the carbon dioxide from the flue and recycle the CO2 into your Sabatier reactors to make more methane by combination with hydrogen.

Jul 09, 2019
It goes without saying that you can use any renewable energy source on the grid for power-to-gas - hydroelectric, biomass, wind etc.

Solar photovoltaic panels will work well in the cold Swiss mountain air. Mount your panels on south facing slopes where they catch the sun and melt any frost.

What's good for Edelweiss is good for solar panels.

Jul 09, 2019
Euope is living in a protectionist cocoon where they charge each other high prices and pretend the rest of the planet isn't competing with them. One day, the fact their productivity is dying due to things like horrifically-high alternative energy prices is going to catch up to them.

No American should say anything about protectionism in Europe :D

It's a shame that many countries are getting rid of nuclear energy. It would be better to rather upgrade the plants and make them safer.

Jul 09, 2019
Or you could just stop beating around the bush and reverse the exit policy on nuclear power.


High temperature nuclear would enable efficient synthesis of synthetic fuel, in addition to central heating. No need to even electrify transportation. If not for anti-nuclear movement, we could have been carbon neutral back in the 90s, and global warming would be a mere inconvenience instead of an existential threat.

Jul 09, 2019
Repeated nuclear accidents have convinced most people that fission reactors are unsafe. This could have been avoided had profit maximization not taken over from safety. This is a recurring theme for profit-seeking accountants who wind up running businesses they do not understand.

Jul 09, 2019
"Can Switzerland succeed without fossil fuels?" Of course, Yes.
Just take a look at Germany, California, etc.
"renewable" = "natural gas"
100% renewables = 80% natural gas + 20% intermittent renewables
Natural gas is a polite term for methane (CH₄) 70x worse than CO₂.

"Nuclear power? No thanks!" translates to "Natural gas? Yes please!"
https://www.youtu...qEdtoJmc
"Greetings from the madhouse called Germany!"

"Germany is blocking the price of carbon. Why? Because it will increase the price of electricity from renewables backed up by natural gas. And will increase competitiveness of nuclear power from France."

"German anti-nuclear activists will be weighed in the same scales by history as fossil fuel promoters"

"German network operators troubled with acute power shortage Chaotic conditions at the German power grid in recent past: electricity was scarce, neighboring countries started relief operations, prices exploded - 37.856 € per MW:"

Jul 09, 2019
Repeated nuclear accidents have convinced most people that fission reactors are unsafe. This could have been avoided had profit maximization not taken over from safety. This is a recurring theme for profit-seeking accountants who wind up running businesses they do not understand.


By far the worst accident occured in Soviet Union, your baseless compaints about "muh profit seeking" being at fault are nonsense.

Jul 09, 2019
This could have been avoided had profit maximization not taken over from safety.


The main culprit for maximizing profit was Greenpeace and other "green" organizations that thrived on fearmongering and propaganda to recruit membership and donations.

But seriously. Propaganda has played a great part. For example, the movie "China Syndrome" which portrayed a nuclear accident as a horror movie, came out to theaters just days before Three Mile Island. The public reaction was rather predictable.

TMI was an embarrassment for the industry, but as a nuclear accident it was a fart in the wind. Then Chernobyl happened, as the public was already driven to hysteria. That was the one-two-punch that lead to decades of anti-nuclear hysteria.

Jul 09, 2019
Much more people have died yearly installing/cleaning up solar panels/wind turbines than in all civilian nuclear industry in sixty years.
Rooftop solar installations in 2012: 440 deaths;
Fukushima & Tree Mile Island: zero deaths from radiation exposure;
Chernobyl: <60 deaths(most not related to radiation).
https://en.wikipe...talities
https://static.ff...489d501a
When put-into-perspective, almost anything is deadlier than carbon-free nuclear energy.
https://pbs.twimg...2hD_.jpg

"Putting things into perspective: the average annual radiation dose per American is 6.2 mSv. The average local dose following Fukushima accident was 2.4 mSv/year. The long-term public dose due to Chernobyl was 9 mSv, about the same as a CT scan. "
https://pbs.twimg...Ro0M.jpg

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