Power station Switzerland

Power station Switzerland

by Dr-Ing. Ernst Pauli

In his book “Kraftwerk-Schweiz – Plädoyer für eine Energiewende mit Zukunft”  (Power station Switzerland – Plea for an energy transition with a future) Anton Gunzinger* examined the Swiss strategy on Energy Supply. He assigend himself the task, as a citizen, as a capable engineer and as realistic entrepreneur, to reflect about scenarios of future energy supply and to simulate them.
He begins by telling about his personal background, his career path, grown up at a farm in the Jura-Mountains, he received international recognition as a scientist and engineer, and finally started up and led a company in the field of information technology. This background explains his personal still down-to-earth values. He feels obliged to preserve the resources of this world for future generations. His humane way of thinking is not least expressed in the very appealing design of the book. Between the chapters “interludes with beautiful lyrics and pictures” are inserted, designed by his wife and a friend “like small islands of peace in the complex sea of energy studies, inviting to pause and to contemplate and clear up your thoughts”. In his role as Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and as entrepreneur in the area of software development for complex systems, he created this book together with his team. He wanted to prompt “people to think for themselves and in particular act on their own”, if this happens “our work has paid off even more”.
First of all Gunzinger focuses on ethical views which distinguish him from many other authors writing on the subject. In his dispute on energy strategy he raises the question of the common good and the works of Elinor Ostrom. The Commons, these are oil, gas, coal and uranium, our air and our water. He looks at the energy supply and the power industry from this perspective. So, he goes beyond those questions always focused on in the public discussion, as there are energy cost, profit and securing our energy-intensive comfortable standard of living. Instead he arranges these questions clearly and comprehensibly putting them in an overall context.
Thus Gunzinger opens up a new understanding, when he argues and proves by facts and figures that solar radiation per unit area in the Swiss mountains is comparable to that of the Sahara. Photovoltaic in Switzerland is therefore not less reasonable than is this technology in the Sahara. In his model calculations he points out that Swiss reservoirs can contribute significantly to the power supply of Switzerland provided the usage of water is managed in a targeted and prudent way. Self-supply can therefore be entirely achieved by further expansion of renewable energies. He indicates that our ancestors knew how to wisely take advantage of the country’s topography and that they once laid the essential foundations for electricity supply by hydro-power. It is obvious that Gunzinger opts for a turn to renewable energy, for power production in Switzerland without risk of nuclear or fossil power generation. For him this is a realistic and achievable target.
His model calculations go far beyond the objectives of the official Swiss “Energy Strategy 2050”: among others, he considers the reduction of the non-renewable fossil energy consumption down to 10% of the present value, feasible. He demonstrates this clearly: the fuel tank of a family house will have to be filled only every 10 years and the car to be refueled only once in 5 months. He sees a possible increase in the share of renewable energy from 20% to 90% in the area of domestic heating and of traffic, even just on the basis of currently available technologies. And of course it is clear to him that with increasing scarcity of oil and gas and with steadily rising market prices the dependence on foreign supply will increase. A change to renewable energy will be cost-effective and helps to ensure the sovereignty of Switzerland. Last but not least it offers a chance for Switzerland’s technology leadership as a basis for economic well-being.
In some technical chapters Gunzinger conveys, understandable for a layman, how electricity is generated, how the “system of power generation” with power plants, electricity grids and consumers looks today and may look in the future. The core of the book are various calculations on scenarios for electricity generation in Switzerland, transparently presented by the expert for system design under appropriate assumptions, “rules”. Base load power plants, river power plants, incineration plants and nuclear energy (as long as still hooked to the grid) provide base load electric power. Biomass power plants are used in winter time only, as their fuel can be stored. Photovoltaic electricity is used every time it is available. Energy is stored with priority in batteries and with second priority by pump storage plants. Water from conventional reservoirs is tapped last in the row. The idea of handling the resources in a saving way is prevailing and not the maximum profit from the operation of the plants.
The model scenarios begin with a “Continue as before” and take step by step photovoltaic, wind energy, biomass and electricity storage into account. Pure enlargement of photovoltaic is under the model assumptions not sufficient to power Switzerland, but already a “well developed photovoltaic (18 GW installed capacity) and a moderately developed wind power (4.5 GW)” would ensure sufficient electricity supply in Switzerland during summer and winter. In alternative broader scenarios, sufficient power supply to Switzerland is always ensured, and by spreading the generation techniques less abundant peak power is produced. In particular, through decentralized storage of produced electricity in batteries and “smart” influence on power consumption, the system becomes more and more stable.
An annex of 40 pages with lots of detailed technical information gives background knowledge to the technically-oriented about the risks of nuclear energy, the limited resources of oil, and many aspects of energy transition, so that a broad, balanced view of the matter is unfolded.
Gunzinger’s book stands out between the descriptions of the avid system defenders, the descriptions of zealous environmentalists with broad, balanced and factual considerations, scenarios and last but not least with a clear ethical point of view. Its reading is therefore more than just information.     •

Anton Gunzinger, Kraftwerk-Schweiz – Plädoyer für eine Energiewende mit Zukunft (Power station Switzerland – Plea for an energy transition with a future), Zytglogge (May 2015), ISBN 978-3729608887

*    Anton Gunzinger, born in 1956 in Welschenrohr, graduated as electrical engineer at the ETH in evening classes. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject of “image processing by parallel computing”. He was awarded various prizes for this work. As assistant to the ETH Zurich, he developed with his team the multiprocessor system with intelligent communication, “music system” winning as the fastest computer in the world the Gordon Bell Award in the last Round of the World Championship. In 1993, he founded the company Supercomputing Systems AG, SCS, headquartered in the Zurich “Technopark”.

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