Bright future for Swiss solar power
As far as an energy policy is concerned, it’s going to be a bright year in Switzerland. New measures this year have been introduced by the government to give a boost to the solar power industry.
“Energy provided by the sun in the space of two or three hours would be enough to cover our entire power needs for a year,” says David Stickelberger. There is absolutely no doubt, the sun is rising on the Swiss energy horizon. By 2025, solar panels could be providing 20% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland. Reaching this goal, according to Swissolar’s calculations, would necessitate the use of 90 of the 200 kilometres squared of built surfaces in Switzerland – such as roofs, factories, motorways – that are available for harnessing solar power.
“We would need to expand the area used by seven km squared every year. Which is really not a lot when you think that, every year, nine km squared becomes available on new buildings alone. Yet only a small part of that is being used,” pointed out Stickelberger.
Currently Switzerland is far from the scenario the green energy advocate envisages. The total area covered by solar panels is no more than four to five km squared, which provide only 1% of electricity needs. Switzerland was a pioneer in photovoltaic technology 30 years ago, but it has since been overtaken by a number of other European countries in terms of production of solar power. In Germany, per capita production is more than 15 times the Swiss figure, and in the Czech Republic it is four times more.
According to environmental groups, the main reasons for this are to be found in the lack of incentives and state aid for new renewable energy projects (solar, wind, biomass) in Switzerland compared with other countries.
It was only in 2009 that Switzerland brought in a national scheme for promoting green energy, the “cost-covering remuneration for feed-in to the electricity grid” (CRF). This is a subsidy paid out over a 20-year period to producers of renewable energy, both companies and individuals.
The funds needed to pay for this subsidy have been generated by means of a levy of CHF0.03 on every kilowatt hour of electricity consumed across the country. This revenue source has proved insufficient, however – about 30,000 projects for solar energy production are still on a waiting list to get the grant. New measures, introduced by the government this year, should help to get the pending projects off the ground.
Two important changes have been made. The CRF levy was increased at the beginning of the year to CHF0.06 per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed, which will double the available funds. And from April 1, 2014 onwards, some green energy producers can opt for a lump-sum contribution, which will cover up to 30% of the costs of a new power plant. It is expected that these measures will mean the go-ahead for 10,000 of the installations on the waiting list.