Energy Sustainability as a Message to the Consumer
A panel discussion organised by the Global Environmental Society and Women in Business
Do we need nuclear energy? How clean are gas-fired combined-cycle power plants? Does one litre of petrol have to cost 12 CHF? What possibilities do we have to save energy? Topics concerning energy sustainability as a message to the consumer were discussed by Women in Business chief editor Sabine Hauptmann and Andrea Schaller, president of the Global Environmental Society, together with expert guests at the most recent Women's Talk in the FIFA auditorium.
Dr. Irene Aegerter, Nuclear Physicist and Vice-President, Schweizer Akademie der technischen Wissenschaften:
Energy and electricity are two pairs of boots. In traffic and in buildings, technical measures can halve energy consumption and emissions without compromising comfort. Every unused litre of petrol or heating oil is a step towards a better energy future. Electric consumption can also be reduced by new technologies, such as LED. However, new devices that require electricity are on the rise, just think of electric vehicles.
Security must be the highest priority at nuclear power plants. An accident is not allowed to adversely affect the environment. Security costs, but accidents and clean-up efforts are more expensive! Tepco failed in Fukushima: emergency diesel was stored unsecured next to the ocean, the pressure relief of the containment vessels had not been retrofitted, and hydrogen recombinators were absent. The Japanese government knew of these deficiencies for seven years, but failed to take action despite the knowledge of tsunami probabilities.
"One can easily demand the exit of nuclear power; however if it is to be accomplished only by gas power plants and a planned economy, then it is dishonest politics, which must be rejected."
Professor Dr. Anton Gunzinger, Electric Engineer and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Supercomputing Systems AG:
The future of energy is strongly linked to energy independence in Switzerland, which includes electricity, heating, and mobility.
Today, around 60% of energy comes from renewable resources, whereas only 40% comes from nuclear power. "Our simulations of the electricity system show that with 15GW photovoltaic, 2.3GW wind, and 1.75GW from biomass, Switzerland can be securely self-sufficient with electrical energy in the winter."
The heating sector needs sustainable energy efficiency. Modern buildings are already 5-6 times as efficient as those built in the 1970's. Heat pumps can improve this factor by an additional 3-5 times, thereby enabling an energy savings of more than 10 times.
The mobility sector is a different story. Passenger cars are generally too heavy, over-motorised and under-occupied. The fuel consumption is dependent on the weight of the car and engine efficiency. In 1960, the average car weighed only 700kg and was occupied by 2.4 passengers. Today, we transport only 1.1 passengers in a 1.4 tonne car, thus moving four times the weight as we did 50 years ago over the same distance and consuming more fuel, accordingly.
The efficiency of combustion engines lies ideally at 33%, diesel at 40%, and in urban settings with stop & go traffic at only 10%. Combined, an Off-Roader (SUV) wastes 99% energy and uses only 1% for moving the vehicle. Smaller, lighter cars, or electric cars with a Range-Extender, can save up to 4-6 times the amount of fuel.
The turnaround in energy policy will only succeed if energy and mobility reflect true cost. Prices would rise, but environmentally friendly actions would be rewarded. With a fuel price of 5-10 CHF, fuel-saving cars and sensible behaviour could stabilise the cost of mobility at the current level. Businesses could achieve record-breaking sales with energy-saving products.
Dr. Suzanne Thoma, CEO, Berner Kraftwerke AG:
The restructuring of the energy supply system is a long process which can only succeed if society is prepared for it. It requires the constructive involvement of the important agents, including the large energy providers. "We have to distance ourselves from damaging 'political show fights' around single energy power plants and from the categorising of 'good and bad' as soon as the technical, financial, and social difficulties regarding the re-structuring are discussed." In future, there will be more small, decentralised electricity production units, for example private photovoltaic installations. Therein lies a large potential and an important contributor to energy supply, although they will not be able to replace the 40% electricity from nuclear power plants. At least as an interim solution, we need to resort to centralised and decentralised gas power plants, which will involve an increase in CO2 output as well as a greater dependence on gas-exporting nations.
The vision of handing over a sufficient, economically viable and environmentally sustainable energy supply to the next generation is a huge motivator for all parties involved.
What can the consumer do to contribute?
Save energy! Drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, buy energy-efficient appliances, lower your heating temperature and turn off the lights when you don't need them. When buying a house, strive for heat-efficient buildings with good insulation, solar thermal technology, ground-source heat pumps, and photovoltaic installations. Saved energy is for all of us – economy, society, and the environment – the cleanest energy.