Enabling faster rollout of renewables can help Switzerland reach climate and energy goals, new IEA policy review says

Aerial View Of Old City Roofs After Snow Geneva Switzerland

Coordinating the deployment of renewables, expanding grids and accelerating progress on reducing emissions in areas such as transport and buildings are key steps for the transition

Switzerland’s low-emissions electricity system makes it well placed to meet its climate targets by 2030 and beyond, but cutting red tape to speed up deployment of renewables is essential as the country intends to move away from nuclear power, according to a new in-depth policy review by the IEA.

Switzerland is demonstrating its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by the end of the decade and to reach net zero by 2050. To achieve this, the government has introduced new legislation and amended existing laws to accelerate progress. However, substantial effort is needed in sectors such as buildings and transport, where 2020 targets for emissions reductions were missed.   

Since the last IEA review in 2018, the introduction of a revised Energy Act in Switzerland has helped make some headway on the country’s energy transition, notably by designating new hydropower and wind developments as projects of national interest. The new IEA review recommends that Switzerland extend the same legal definition to all renewable power plants and their connection to the grid as a measure to attract developers to invest in new capacity.

Renewable energy projects and extensions to power grids in Switzerland often face lengthy timelines as legal proceedings can delay projects for decades. Administrative bottlenecks around planning and deployment are slowing down the rollout of new projects which, if left unaddressed, could put 2030 climate targets at risk and cause security of supply concerns. Following a national referendum in 2017, Switzerland will gradually phase out nuclear power from its electricity mix, potentially increasing reliance on imports until new low-emissions capacity comes into operation.

“Switzerland’s efforts to contain the impacts of the global energy crisis while making progress toward its net zero goals are commendable,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director Mary Burce Warlick, who is launching the report in Bern today at an event with Federal Councillor Albert Rösti, Head of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). “The gradual phaseout of nuclear power and increased electrification of the energy system will present challenges. Switzerland must ensure that new renewable energy 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 decarbonisation targets.”

To ensure Switzerland keeps pace with its targets, the IEA’s review sets out a series of key recommendations. As a first step, federal and regional authorities could streamline lengthy permitting and approval procedures for critical infrastructure projects, including new hydropower, wind and solar PV projects, clearing the path toward a clean energy future. This includes encouraging regions, known as cantons, to harmonise consent processes and improve spatial planning for new projects and supporting infrastructure.

Other recommendations include preparing climate legislation for the post-2030 period, prioritising energy efficiency measures, accelerating digitalisation and aligning electricity market regulations with those of the European Union. The global energy crisis has also highlighted the need for basic gas market regulation in Switzerland, supported by the creation of an independent gas regulator. Such market reforms will prepare Switzerland for potential integration into the European Union’s internal energy market.

Energy efficiency is key pillar of Switzerland’s strategy to reach its 2030 climate targets. The country has a strong track record in decoupling economic growth from energy consumption, far outperforming the IEA average on a per capita basis. And yet, missed targets in critical sectors highlight the need for robust energy efficiency measures. As such, the IEA review suggests that energy efficiency should be prioritised and anchored in all new energy and climate legislation as the “first fuel”. This will require close cooperation at the federal and regional level to advance the energy transition, given the devolved powers held by cantons with respect to energy.