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«If we become addicted to the european electric grid like junkies, then our bargaining position is weak»


When I'm out driving in the morning, I see almost only internal combustion engined (ICE) cars. Why are still so few people buying e-cars?

I’ve been driving electric cars for twelve years. For a long time, I was the only one to do so – an exotic beast! But a lot has happened in the last three years: at a political level, the EU and Switzerland have tightened emission limits. Plus, car manufacturers have finally come to recognise the added value of e-mobility. This has led to electric cars being produced in ever greater numbers. They look better than before, they have a greater range and they’re dropping in price. Added to that, the industry is, step-by-step, phasing out the internal combustion engine. In twenty years’ time, tailpipe emissions will no longer be an issue, because by then, ICE vehicles will be extinct – with the exception of those already on the road and classic cars…

… and traffic will be electrified. Is this the only way? What about alternatives such as hybrid propulsion, fuel cells and CO2-neutral fuel?

If you’re talking overall energy consumption, powering a car with a battery is by far the most efficient approach. I’m convinced that when it comes to personal mobility on the road, almost 100 percent will involve battery-powered vehicles. The problem with synthetic fuels is that the production process remains very complex and there’s a great deal of conversion loss. That being said, they can make sense for certain things such as heavy goods vehicles and aviation – segments that are more difficult to electrify and that need a fuel with a high energy density. Plug-in hybrids are a transitional technology that’s already on its way out, albeit gradually.

Are electric cars really that environmentally friendly? The mining for raw materials, for example, is problematic.

We’re talking about a sector that’s caused a vast amount of damage. The internal combustion engine is a big polluter, and oil extraction has caused wars, death and misery. It’s not as if we’re about to go straight from that to paradise. It is indeed the case that electromobility has its problematic aspects. Some of the raw materials for the batteries are extracted under questionable conditions; they’re rare resources that we shouldn’t be using up. Nonetheless, working conditions have to be changed and battery recycling is constantly being improved. There are plenty of credible studies out there that show that the electric car is, as things stand, the cleanest option when it comes to personal mobility. And we’re sure to find solutions to the current challenges of e-mobility in the foreseeable future

« Electricity’s an absolutely vital commodity in our society. »

The power we need for our e-cars should be green. Where will it all come from?

Currently, most of Switzerland’s electricity comes from hydropower and nuclear power. Solar energy is growing; its share is around five percent at the moment. Going forward, our electricity will come primarily from solar energy, plus hydropower and wind. We’ll certainly be able to produce enough electricity to power all the vehicles. My roadmap shows how this will be achieved.

Won’t the grid collapse if everyone charges their cars at the same time?

If all the cars were connected to the public grid at the same time without some form of intelligent management system, the power needed would be around three times what the grid can currently provide. This would endanger the grid’s stability. But electromobility has a big advantage and is part of the solution, not the problem: you can charge the cars locally using solar photovoltaic panels – at home or at work, for example. Using some form of intelligent management system, you can not only charge the battery, but also feed energy from the battery back into the grid when needed. The key thing is to be investing now in these kinds of facilities.

Does it make sense to invest so much in making Switzerland self-sufficient?

Electricity’s an absolutely vital commodity in our society. That’s why we should be producing as much of it as possible in Switzerland. Compared to the benefits, the investment is not that high.

Would you prefer to uncouple us from the European electric grid?

It goes without saying that we remain part and parcel of the European electric grid. This is enormously important for the stability and security of our supply. Only, if we become addicted to the international electric grid like junkies, especially in winter, then our bargaining position is weak. In order for us to be sustainably integrated into the European electric grid, we urgently need a bilateral agreement on electricity with the EU. Without this, our security of supply and that of the EU will gradually deteriorate.

Why are people only thinking about this now?

It was never thought that we might have a problem with the power supply. The war in Ukraine has changed all that.

In Switzerland, where will we get our electricity from in winter when the sun doesn’t shine so often?

In summer, we have the advantage of producing too much electricity from hydropower and solar energy. Using the Power-to-X (P2X) electricity conversion pathway, the excess could be stored as synthetic fuels for the winter. It’s the same principle as pickling and preserving food for eating in winter. So in the dark season, you convert back into electricity what you stored in the summer or use the fuels for flying.

Let’s talk now about driving an e-car. Is driving an electric car a pleasant experience?

Hugely so! You drive serenely and there are hardly any repairs. If you get into the habit of charging your car where you sleep and work, you don’t even have to recharge while on the go. It’s the same thing with your mobile phone. Sure, you need to plan ahead on a long trip. But that’s rarely the case, and there are apps that show, in real time, where to find unoccupied charge stations.

Electromobility, saving electricity, P2X: what’s your recipe for a completely CO2-neutral Switzerland by 2050?

There’s no one easy way. It’s about combining a variety of measures intelligently. To do this, we need to be electrifying mobility as well as buildings. We need to boost the rollout of solar panels and technologies such as P2X to bridge the winter gap. We should also increase our electricity efficiency by 40 percent. Smart grids are an intelligent and efficient way of facilitating the interaction of renewable electricity production with and among these consumers. These grids incorporate building technology consumers such as charge points, heat pumps and cooling systems. Smart grids help coordinate production and consumption in terms of time and location.

Will we manage all that?

I’m sure of it: we’ll reach our goal by 2050 by being climate neutral and largely self-sufficient. However, we’ll still be faced with legacy issues such as climate damage and nuclear waste. Switzerland led the way in converting the railways from coal to electricity. We’re still benefiting from this know-how, which we export around the world. I see the climate targets as an opportunity for Switzerland to once again take on the mantle of pioneer.

What can I do?

As things stand, some 40 percent of the electricity in Switzerland is wasted. What can I do about this as a private individual?

In our office building, we’ve managed to cut our use of electricity by 80 percent! Our system incorporates motion detectors that switch off appliances when no one’s using them. It’s worth doing the same thing at home. Converting all the lighting to LED technology is a must. Other tips include lowering the thermostat by one degree and taking fewer baths and shorter showers. Domestic hot water offers a great potential to save energy. For many households, heating the water using mains electricity accounts for half of their power consumption. If you want to change this to a heat pump system, you should work out what your demand is first: this will avoid overestimating the heat output needed and so heating an unnecessary amount of water. Another important consideration is using blinds to keep thermal gain in check: that way, you won’t need air conditioning. You can get blinds that lower automatically on sunny days when no one’s at home.

You speak of intelligent building controls that help save electricity. If I’m a tenant, how do I get my landlord to install them?

Landlords aren’t obliged to make their tenanted properties smarter. But you can get together with the other tenants and ask the landlord to include intelligent building controls at the next renovation. Until then, tenants can do a certain amount themselves such as by getting smart technologies that offer remote control of lighting and standby devices. Just ask around for advice!

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