Switzerland’s pursuit of ambitious climate and energy objectives by 2030 and beyond hinges on expediting the deployment of renewables while transitioning away from nuclear power, according to a comprehensive policy review conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA’s findings underscore Switzerland’s commendable commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by the end of this decade and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The Swiss government has enacted new legislation and amended existing laws to accelerate progress towards its climate goals. However, significant efforts are still required in sectors like buildings and transport, where emissions reduction targets for 2020 fell short.
The IEA’s review, the first since 2018, acknowledges the strides made in Switzerland’s energy transition due to the revised Energy Act. Notably, it designates new hydropower and wind developments as projects of national interest. The IEA recommends extending this legal status to all renewable power plants and grid connections to incentivize investment in new capacities.
One of the primary challenges hindering renewable projects and grid expansions in Switzerland is the protracted legal processes that can delay initiatives for decades. Administrative bottlenecks impeding planning and deployment threaten the 2030 climate targets and energy supply security. Switzerland, following a 2017 national referendum, plans to phase out nuclear power from its electricity mix, potentially increasing reliance on imports until new low-emissions capacity is operational.
IEA Deputy Executive Director Mary Burce Warlick commended Switzerland’s efforts in the face of the global energy crisis. Speaking at the report’s launch event in Bern alongside Federal Councillor Albert Rösti, Head of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications (DETEC), Warlick commented, “Switzerland’s efforts to contain the impacts of the global energy crisis while making progress toward its net zero goals are commendable. The gradual phaseout of nuclear power and increased electrification of the energy system will present challenges. Switzerland must ensure that new renewable capacity can come online in a timely and orderly manner to limit the reliance on electricity imports and remain on track to meet its long-term decarbonization targets.”
The IEA’s review outlines several key recommendations to help Switzerland stay on track. Federal and regional authorities should simplify lengthy permitting and approval processes for critical infrastructure projects, including hydropower, wind, and solar PV installations. Harmonizing consent procedures across cantons and enhancing spatial planning for projects and infrastructure are also encouraged.
Other recommendations encompass preparing climate legislation for the post-2030 era, prioritizing energy efficiency measures, accelerating digitalization, and aligning electricity market regulations with those of the European Union. Switzerland is urged to establish basic gas market regulation and create an independent gas regulator, aligning its energy market with the EU’s internal energy market.
Energy efficiency stands as a pivotal pillar in Switzerland’s strategy to meet its 2030 climate targets. The country boasts a robust record of decoupling economic growth from energy consumption, surpassing the IEA average per capita. Despite this achievement, missed targets in vital sectors underscore the need for robust energy efficiency measures. The IEA review underscores the importance of prioritizing energy efficiency in all new energy and climate legislation as the “first fuel.” This necessitates close cooperation between federal and regional levels, given the cantons’ decentralized energy-related powers.