In 2022, more than two thirds of Swiss homes were heated with heating oil (39%), gas (18%) or by burning wood (12%), according to figures published this week by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).
High emission wood, gas and mazout burners heated 69% of Swiss residential buildings in 2022. Heat pumps (19%), standard electric heaters (8%) and communal heating systems powered by a range of energy sources (4%) made up the remainder.
Home heat sources varied significantly based on the date of a building’s construction. 82% of dwellings built between 1946 and 1970 were heated with mazout (59%), gas (14%) or wood (8%). By contrast, among homes built between between 2011 and 2022 only 19% were heated using mazout (2%), gas (11%) or wood (6%). The other 81% were heated using heat pumps (72%) and other means (9%).
Heat pumps, which produce no direct greenhouse emissions, are now Switzerland’s preferred heat source for new buildings. However, their environmentally friendly credentials only stand up when the electricity running them is clean. Data from the UNIGE hydrocarbon platform shows how much of the electricity consumed in Switzerland during winter, when heat pumps are most heavily used, is produced using fossil fuels. A snapshot taken on 21 December 2022 showed that 56% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland came from fossil fuels, a large portion of it imported from Germany. Electric heat pumps will only substantially cut emissions if we also clean up the electricity grid.
In addition, the economics of installing heat pumps in older homes face a head wind. While the prices of gas (+67%) and electricity (+61%) in Switzerland have risen substantially over the past decade, the price of heating oil has only risen modestly (+13%)1. On price, heating oil competes quite well. And those with mazout-powered homes who have a knack for picking market lows can lock in an energy bargain and shelter themselves from energy price volatility by stocking up on heating oil when prices are low, something that isn’t possible with gas or electricity.
More policy focused on incentivising home owners to install solar panels to ensure more of Switzerland’s heat pumps are run on clean electricity would be one way to accelerate the shift to more low emission housing. Plentiful, clean, stably priced electricity might make switching to an electric heat pump the clear environmental and economic choice.
1Electricity prices have risen from 19.96 ct./kWh to 32.15 ct./kWh over the last 10 years. Over a similar timeframe heating oil has risen a modest 13% from 104 ct./litre to 117 ct./litre. Gas prices have risen by 67%.