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How WSL research is contributing to the energy transition

Switzerland has decided to phase out nuclear energy while cutting its CO2 emissions with a view to achieving its climate goals. This calls for a thorough restructuring of the energy system with consequences for society and the environment. The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) is investigating the resource availability required for the energy transition, as well as the potential impact of using new and different resources. The Energy Change Impact research programme, launched jointly by WSL and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), addresses these important issues for the future.

The energy transition and promotion of renewable energies pose not only technical but also social challenges. To ensure that any restructuring undertaken is sustainable, decision-makers need information on which resources are available and in what quantities, as well as on the extent of present and future energy needs.

WSL and Eawag scientists use the Energy Change Impact research programme launched in autumn 2014 as a means of coordinating research activities into the current use and future potential of various energy sources. They also investigate the possible risks and consequences of the energy transition for the protection of the environment, climate, water bodies, the landscape and land use. The findings should help to identify and minimise any risks and conflicts that may arise in connection with the use of resources or the transport of energy.

SCCER2

WSL research on energy resources

Constructing energy generation plants is expensive. As their cost effectiveness directly depends on resource availability, it is worth looking ahead. A number of WSL projects focus on predicting water availability for the operators of alpine (pumped) storage hydropower plants. Statistics on the potential development of energy wood in Swiss forests under various forest management scenarios are equally relevant. Woody and non-woody biomass is also likely to play a role in Switzerland’s future energy policy, and is therefore also analysed in the programme.

Energieholz und Biodiversität

WSL research on the impact of the energy transition

The energy transition may also have positive consequences, e.g. for rural development. A WSL project focuses on how using renewable energies can have a positive effect on the regional economy. Without doubt, the energy transition often has negative impacts on the environment and landscape. WSL research helps decision-makers by providing them with, for instance, information on sediment transport, on how artificial drainage systems influence river restoration projects and on how intensified forest use can affect the species diversity of beetles.

Windkraftwerk

WSL research on energy conflicts

The project “Use of Energy and Resources in the Mountains” develops new hydrological models interconnecting the interests of the winter tourism industry and hydropower. The overall aim is to find ways of saving water, energy and money. Studies on potentially conflicting uses between energy generation (e.g. wind farms, photovoltaic facilities, and reservoirs) and landscape aesthetics are highly relevant for a densely populated country like Switzerland. Identifying the best locations and involving the public in decision-making at an early stage should help to prevent conflicts and unnecessary costs.

WSL and Swiss energy research

The Swiss Federal Council aims to bolster energy research by establishing seven Competence Centers within the framework of an action plan named “Coordinated Energy Research Switzerland”. WSL researchers are involved in three of these Centers:

  • Swiss Competence Center on Supply of Electricity, SCCER-SoE,
  • Swiss Competence Center on Biomass for Swiss Energy Future, SCCER-BIOSWEET,
  • Swiss Competence Center for Research in Energy, Society and Transition, SCCER-CREST.

 

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