Future Energy Supply and Security in Switzerland

Bern, 10.07.2014 - Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 10.07.2014

Susan Hockfield, President Emerita, MIT

Prof. Claude Canizares, Vice President MIT

Prof. Robert C. Armstrong, Director MITEI           

Robert Stoner, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, MITEI

Bernd Widdig, Ph.D, Director of International Affairs, MIT

Martha Broad, Executive Director, MITEI

Do more than dream, act!

Do more than study, understand!

Do more than try, do it !

MIT is the perfect place to do all this - as indeed are the ETH and EPFL / federal institutes of technology  in Switzerland.

The MIT is the perfect place to push dialogue and collaboration towards a greener technological development.

  1. Because Boston - just on the other side of the Charles River - is one of the most active clean energy hubs in North America.
  2. Because Switzerland and Massachusetts share a vision for a more sustainable future, with a reduced carbon footprint, increased resiliency, and a lower dependency on non-sustainable energy sources.
  3. Because MIT and Switzerland's federal institutes of technology are ranked among the best universities in the world.

According to the World Energy Outlook, global demand for energy will increase by 60% by 2035. The ability to produce energy at affordable prices is a decisive factor for a modern economy, which is why consistent improvements to energy efficiency, the expansion of renewable energies and energy security are on the agenda all over the world.

Given that it is a country with few natural resources, Switzerland has been striving to make the most efficient use of resources for a long time, for compelling reasons; we have no oil, barely any natural gas and we import around 80% of our energy. But we can use water, which covers around 56% of power needs.

That's why in 2010 the Swiss government drafted an agenda to green our economy, to be more resource efficient and to reduce our CO2-emissions. If we want to contribute to a prosperous world economy which can feed 9 billion people, giving them access to clean water, transport and electricity, we need change. A change in our way of thinking and in the way we act, changes in technology, changes in financial allocations and in subsidies.

That's why we are also following the geopolitical shifts on the global energy map with great interest. We see how China and India are becoming the world's largest importers of oil and coal. We see that the USA will soon be able to cover its own energy needs thanks to the discovery of new gas fields and the fracking of shale gas, that coal is exported. We note with some concern the developments in Ukraine, especially given that the region is of key importance for the whole of Europe in terms of energy supply.

Energy generation and supply are important. But let's first talk about energy consumption, the demand side. It is vital that we in the indistrialised countries reduce our energy consumption.

Today 20% of the world's population consumes 80% of our energy. According to IEA estimates, the 2.2 billion inhabitants of the underdeveloped countries use up to 35 times less electricity than the 1.3 billion inhabitants of industrialised countries. There are currently 900 million cars in the world. Of those, 235 million are driven in the USA, and 10% of those are in Los Angeles alone!

If that pattern was to be followed all over the world there would be around 5 billion cars on our roads.

We therefore have to take steps to reduce our carbon footprint,

  • in transport and traffic,
  • in buildings and in heating and cooling systems.

That is where the greatest potential lies for reducing consumption and boosting efficiency.

Innovations in the energy sector and in energy technology are becoming increasingly important. Both high-tech and traditional industries are affected by these trends. They can all see the push for an efficiency revolution as an opportunity. The greatest potential for market dynamism is expected in the renewable energy and material efficiency sectors.

If we don't manage to come up with smart solutions, future generations will - as a result - suffer from our actions, or rather our inaction.

New sources of energy production and new energy efficiency technologies must therefore be an essential part of policy today. At the same time, such policies should draw us away from high levels of fossil fuel consumption and the associated CO2 emissions.

As far as efficiency in buildings, public transport and in industry are concerned, Switzerland is among the leading nations in innovation and competitiveness according to various performance indexes and rankings, especially in the cleantech sector. Here are a few examples:

  • WEF ranking - a green and a competitive economy is possible: CH in 1st place
  • Innovation Union Scoreboard (European Commission): CH in 1st place
  • WEC (World Energy Council) Energy Sustainability Index: CH in 1st place
  • Yale Environmental Performance Index: CH in 1st place
  • Global Energy Architecture Performance Index (WEF): CH in 4th place
  • Nation Brand Index: CH in 8th place

This excellent performance has been made possible mostly thanks to our excellent researchers in industry and in academic institutions, and thanks to the financial support of the Swiss government. Considering the willingness on the part of our researchers and engineers to search for new answers, I am convinced that we will find more smart and marketable solutions to our common energy challenges.

I know that Massachusetts is one of the most advanced states in terms of R&D (research and development) and in innovation; Switzerland is therefore an excellent match to tackle these challenges together. Switzerland is already one of the biggest foreign R&D Investors in the US, and half of all fellows of the Swiss National Science Foundation drawn to the US for work. Cooperation between our universities is already strong and it could even grow! By way of example, the federal institutes of technology in Zurich and Lausanne (ETH and EPFL) share the same DNA as MIT; there are 73 bilateral links on an informal basis between the ETH and MIT. The signing of the ETH-MIT Student Exchange Agreement is the way forward. I could mention many more (exchange for ETH-Harvard for the department of architecture, BU-UNIGE and UNIGE-Harvard), but I would rather hope that we foster even more new partnerships out of these days. Working together Swiss and Americans can be a powerful driver towards global cooperation on climate and energy policy.

But for that we need joined up research and joined up markets. Only then - and via IT-steered infrastructure - can energy  reach the consumer in a way that makes efficient use of resources: A 'World Wide Energy Web'!

For that we are dependent on international 'intelligence', in both senses of the word: Intelligence in terms of R&D and intelligence in terms of IT solutions. For production, transmission and consumption have to be optimally integrated by making full use of use of available global IT resources.

Particularly in terms of energy supply, conditions are set to continue changing in the future.

That requires flexibility in politics, in business - and especially in research. We need answers to a host of difficult questions:

  • How do we put in place incentives to save energy and reduce consumption, particularly in society, when energy remains so cheap in so many countries?
  • How can we divert the over USD 540 billion in fossil fuel subsidies?
  • How can we improve energy storage and minimise transmission losses?
  • How can increasing mobility, particularly in mega-cities, be achieved using less energy, less space and lower emissions?

The job of political actors in the rapidly changing environment of energy technologies is not easy: legislation is already lagging behind market innovations. The question of data protection in new, intelligent networks is just one example. Who does the data belong to, who is allowed to use it and for what purpose? The energy industry, and all those involved in it have to wake up and get used to the idea over the next ten years that it will not be possible to immediately regulate every innovation. That can also be seen as an opportunity, especially in terms of research and market competition.

We have two main goals to achieve, regardless of short-term economic wishes; regardless of the current state of the economy; regardless of whether we're talking about industrial, emerging or developing countries:

  • Firstly, the share of fossil fuels must be brought down, because these resources are finite and because many people on this planet are consuming ever more energy.
  • Secondly, global warming must be contained. The time for grand declarations is over. The world needs stalwart policies and politicians who keep their campaign promises. I expressly welcome the Green Power Plan presented by President Obama.

What Silicon Valley has done for IT over the last 40, 50 years, universities such as MIT must do for energy technologies now. A pace for inventors. A place for visionaries. Create synergies; make the most of your networks; show through your research, too, how important it is to push education. Because even MIT's best won't be able to put the world on the energy path of the future on their own.

It is vital that information and communications technologies (ICT) are incorporated into energy production, transmission and consumption at all levels: from the electricity meter in the home to power station turbines, every part of the network must be embedded in a common system. Soon Google, by buying up sensor and power management firms in the building systems sector, will be able to determine who is most likely to be at home when to take delivery of parcels. 'Smart networks' fed by thousands of energy sources and used by thousands of consumers - similar to the internet. A long-term goal such as that could lead to great efficiency gains.

But there is a need for more ICT to manage the increasingly volatile means of production. In its Green Revolution paper, the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E) expects to see an expansion of up to 60& in renewable energies by 2030. That will call for flexibility in production and on the grid.

And for that we need researchers. In Switzerland we currently have two national research programmes (NFP 70+71 CHF 45'000'000) which aim to point the way towards technological developments for a sustainable energy policy.

For that we have researchers. Professor Grätzel from the EPF Lausanne has successfully put into practice the principle of photosynthesis in solar cells. Professor Steinfeld from the ETH Zurich has, together with the California Institute of Technology, managed to generate 'solar fuel' from water and carbon dioxide with the help of concentrated sunlight. The quest for perpetual motion is not only being conducted by scientists in the USA and France, but also by the fusion scientist Minh Quang Tran from the EPF Lausanne.

Ladies and Gentleman, it is our job to help cultivate innovation and ensure that the best and brightest ideas go from the laboratory to the market place. We must make sure we invest in the next generation of cutting edge technologies and lead the way in clean energy research and innovation.

Because today's innovative technologies will shape our future!

Good luck with your valuable work and thank you for listening.

Address for enquiries

Communication DETEC, +41 58 462 55 11


General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; General Secretariat DETEC