On 18 June 2023, Swiss voters passed a package of emission cutting actions, among them subsidies to incentivise home owners to change fossil fuel heating systems. This week, Albert Rösti, Switzerland’s energy minister, unveiled dates for the expected roll out of the plan, reported SRF. Subsidies should be available from the beginning of 2025.
The main target for the subsidies is homeowners with the gas and oil heating systems that heat the majority of Swiss buildings.
In 2021, 41% of Swiss buildings were heated with oil (mazout) and 18% with gas. More than 70% of heating in Switzerland involves directly burning something – 41% oil, 18% gas and 12% wood. The aim is to incentivise building owners to convert to heat pumps, an efficient form of electric heating, and also confusingly to wood burners.
Wood burners are being promoted despite their high emissions and significant air pollution. Their promotion is based on the questionable logic that wood is renewable – oil and coal are too over the right timeframe. Environmental NGOs have been battling against this subterfuge for some time. In one article WWF undermines the 9 key arguments commonly used by the wood fuel industry in their lobbying. WWF’s arguments include: wood is renewable but not low carbon, rotting wood emits slowly while burning emits fast, and using wood in long lived products is better than burning it. In addition to the arguments covered by WWF, the air pollution from burning wood is significant, so it comes with a potential health cost. Data from the UK suggest wood burning generates more air pollution than road transport.
Under the plan accepted by Swiss voters, homeowners who replace their fossil fuel heating systems with wood heating systems or electric heat pumps are to benefit from support totalling CHF 200 million a year, which will start in 2025, according to Rösti.
However, CHF 200 million is a fairly small sum relative to the scale of the conversion required to meet Switzerland’s climate goals. If 10% of the roughly 1.8 million dwellings in Switzerland burning fossil fuel wanted to convert in a given year, there would only be enough for a CHF 1,111 subsidy per conversion. Not much compared to the cost of converting, which can run as high as CHF 50,000.
SRF article (in German)