The new Energy Strategy 2050, which was approved by the Swiss populace by referendum on 21 May 2017, sets forth ambitious targets for saving energy along with a phased withdrawal from nuclear energy and development of electricity production electricity using new renewable energies.
Natural gas has valuable advantages which can help the country fulfil these objectives.
Eventually, the gradual decommissioning of nuclear power stations will reduce Switzerland's domestic production capacity by some 40%. This generation shortfall , estimated at 25 TWh, cannot be narrowed by new renewable energies alone because their estimated peak potential of 24 TWh will not be achieved until 2050. Moreover, since renewable energies are intermittent and strongly dependent on the weather, it is important to take a realistic view of their contribution to the Swiss energy mix. Another solution would be to make extensive use of imports, although this would not be desirable for Switzerland’s energy independence and continuity of supply.
Combined-cycle gas turbine plants (CCGTs)
Combined-cycle gas turbine plants are capable of gradually taking over from nuclear power plants as they reach the end of their lifecycle. CCGTs are large, gas-powered, thermal power stations which are highly efficient because they make use of both gas turbines and steam turbines. With their low investment cost, rapid construction and sound environmental performance, CCGTs will help boost the share of renewable energies in the Swiss energy mix between now and 2050.
At present, a large number of projects are being considered, especially the Cornaux and Chavalon power stations in Western Switzerland, each of which will have an output of 400 MWe and provide potential electricity production of 2 to 3 TWh per year.
“Power-to-gas” technology, which uses surplus renewable electricity to produce synthetic gas by a process of methanation, can compensate for both current limitations of the new renewable energies: transportation and storage in non-mountainous regions (no pumping station nearby).
With this new technology, any surplus renewable electricity that cannot be used locally or transported may be stored in the form of carbon-neutral synthetic gas and conveyed through the European gas networks (there are over 200,000km of high-pressure gas pipelines in Europe, including 2,250km in Switzerland). In addition to the volume of the gas pipelines themselves, Europe has significant gas storage capacities (about 100 billion m3, or 25% of Europe’s annual consumption).