EXPRESS #3 - October 16, 2018
Switzerland is not Belgium of course. But could the Swiss decision to phase out its nuclear power stations result in power shortages, as Belgium is currently fearing?
Well, perhaps not quite. Still, according to a review of Switzerland’s energy policies by the International Energy Agency (IEA), published on 8 October, the country’s nuclear exit “presents challenges for maintaining electricity security”.
“With the country’s 2017 decision to gradually phase-out nuclear power, Switzerland faces a considerable energy-sector transition in coming decades”, notes the IEA.
Nuclear power has been – and still is – a pillar of Switzerland’s energy system. According to the review, “nuclear power has provided a high and stable share of Switzerland’s energy supply since the 1980s, accounting for 22% of the total primary energy supply in 2017. Nuclear accounted for 16% of the installed capacity in 2016 and generated 34% of total electricity in 2017, which was the sixth highest among International Energy Agency (IEA) member countries (see Figure 6.1).”
However, “the Energy Strategy 2050 (ES 2050), which came into force on 1 January 2018, prohibits the construction of new nuclear power plants (NPPs). Existing NPPs are allowed to continue operation until their technical lifetime comes to an end, and are subject to regular safety reviews. Therefore, the nuclear fleet will be closed down eventually, and will not be replaced by new reactors as previously intended. The first reactor closure is planned for 2019 due to commercial reasons.”
“The ES 2050 envisions replacement of existing nuclear capacity by renewable sources of energy. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) has evaluated scenarios for how this can be achieved. However, such replacement capacity may not be in place in time for the nuclear phase-out, under current conditions and policy instruments”, notes the IEA.
What should be worrying for Europe is that, according to the IEA, “Switzerland will be increasingly relying on imports from its European neighbours to meet electricity demand, especially during the winter months when low water levels impact production from hydro plants.”
Wasn’t Belgium also hoping to import more electricity? Isn’t Germany considering closing its coal power stations after also phasing out its nuclear power? Hasn’t the Netherlands announced the closing of all its coal power stations?
And Switzerland is already a net importer of electricity. The IEA reports that Switzerland imported 36.4 TWh and exported 30.9 TWh of electricity in 2017. This resulted in 5.5 TWh net imports, which provided 8% of the total electricity supply (net imports plus domestic generation) in the country.
Germany is the main exporter to Switzerland. In 2016, Germany provided 51% of Switzerland’s electricity imports, followed by France (25%), Austria (20%) and Italy (4%).
For exports, 70% was delivered to Italy and the rest to France (18%), Germany (10%) and Austria (1%).
Over the past two decades, Switzerland has gone from being a net exporter of up to around 10 TWh to having net imports in some years.
On a positive note, the IEA states that “Switzerland’s CO2 levy on fossil fuels and its automatic upward adjustment in case intermediate emission targets are not met, has proven highly effective in shifting energy demand from oil towards gas and renewables, and supporting investments in energy efficiency.
“The CO2 levy represents a best policy practice example to inspire other countries”, said Paul Simons, IEA Deputy Executive Director “but transport fuels are exempt from the CO2 levy and emissions in that sector are actually growing”.
The IEA encourages the Swiss government to more proactively develop a strategy for electric mobility to limit emissions from the transport sector.