Last week the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) announced that 62% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland came from renewable sources.
However, it is impossible to know where the electricity from your plug came from. It is like taking water from the sea and claiming it came from a particular glacier. It can’t be done.
Switzerland’s electricity goes into a grid, a sea of electricity produced by different means across Europe.
Because of its central geographic location, around 11% of Europe’s electricity flows in and out of the country.
Every year Switzerland imports and exports between 50 and 90 TWh of electricity, more than the 64 TWh it produces and the 60 TWh it consumes.
Adding to the confusion, Switzerland uses its dams as aquatic batteries. It buys and uses cheap off-peak electricity to pump water up to reservoirs so it can be released at peak times to power hydro-electric generators. How should the electricity from this water be classified if the electricity used for pumping is dirty?
Given the impossibility of connecting consumption to production, what is the point of trying to attribute it as SFOE does?
Grids and exchanges muddy the water. The dirty gets mixed with the clean and becomes indistinguishable from the rest. Abstractly connecting users to suppliers provides a way to pay clean producers more. And, if higher payments are directed at clean producers, they’ll be motivated to put more into the system, while those burning fossil fuels might see demand fall.
Of the Swiss electricity produced renewably (64%), most is from hydro (59%) with the rest (5%) coming from solar, wind and biomass.
The chart above shows a breakdown of total Swiss electricity production in 2016.
Electricity consumed attributed to renewable energy was lower (62%) than that produced renewably. The difference is due to some consumers continuing to use unidentified grey electricity, which could be dirty.
The chart above shows the attribution of Swiss electricity consumption in 2016.
There is still some attribution work to be done and still plenty of dirty electricity in the system. Until it’s 100% clean consuming less electricity and putting more clean stuff into the grid should be the imperative. For example, a small electric car beats a big one.
And, it doesn’t matter where on the grid the fossil fuel is being burnt. Climate change knows no borders.