The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) claims 80% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland is renewable. However, a recent study from Geneva University calculates that only 50% is, reported RTS.
The difference between the SFOE’s 80% and Geneva University’s 50% largely results from the way the two figures are calculated. The SFOE’s calculation is based on the electricity Switzerland buys. But as Elliott Romano, a researcher at environmental science institute at Geneva University, explains, the electricity Switzerland buys is not the electricity that it consumes.
According to Romano, in 2021, the electricity Switzerland consumed was 45% hydro, 5% solar, 33% nuclear and 11% fossil fuel.
The electricity that Switzerland buys is not what Switzerland pulls from the grid. The electricity bought goes into the grid (a pool of electricity spanning much of Europe) from a particular place at a particular point in time. When the electricity is bought a certificate is issued to the buyer showing how the electricity will be produced. This certificate allows the buyer to take electricity from the grid from another place and time. This means clean electricity, from say solar, could be bought over summer. But the buyer could then draw electricity from the grid on a dark winter’s night when the original seller is putting no solar power into the grid, which is at that point in time powered by coal and gas.
Another area of confusion is the accounting around green energy certificates. These can be bought from electricity generators that are not even connected to Europe’s electricity grid. For example, Switzerland buys green energy certificates related to electricity generated in Iceland, a nation not connected to Europe’s grid. This means it is buying electricity it cannot physically access but is deemed to have used.
RTS contacted SFOE about their calculations and they confirmed that their accounting does not reflect the source of the electricity actually used in Switzerland. There is a disconnect between certificates of electricity origin are the physical provision of the electricity itself, it said. The system does not allow current to be followed or traced. However, SFOE did challenge some of the study’s calculations, in particular the 11% fossil fuel estimate, a figure it claims is no higher than 3%.
So where does that leave electricity consumers? Given that electricity is pooled across much of Europe it only really makes sense to view it in aggregate. Any nation drawing electricity from a pool with dirty generation in it can cut overall pollution by drawing less. It doesn’t really matter where the emissions are generated, because just like with climate change, we are all in the same big boat.