New models for dealing with energy


The chameleon is the embodiment of flexibility and dynamism. It adapts its shape, colour and movement to its environment for camouflage. The colours also depend on factors like temperature, the intensity of the sun's rays, the time of day or humidity. It turns lighter in colour when the temperature is high to reflect light and darker when temperatures are low.

Flexibility will also play a key role in our future energy supply. In the interest of efficiency, electricity generation, storage, transport and consumption need to be synchronised with one another.

New models for dealing with energy


Power generation technologies are often one-sidedly put centre stage in the political and public discussion about “energy transition”. The debate revolves around phasing out nuclear power or increasing the portion of electricity generated from renewable resources. The energy supply of the future, however, must be rethought and further developed with a view to the entire system. The efficient use of energy and smart management of the generation-grids-consumption system will play an important role in this process.

The hunger for energy is great: while the global population increased by eighty per cent between 1973 and today, energy consumption doubled in the same time period. The industrial nations account for the majority of this increase. Energy consumption will continue to significantly increase as the economies of the heavily populated emerging nations grow. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects an increase in world consumption of twenty per cent by 2030 solely in China and India. Fossil fuels supply the greatest portion of energy by far. Electrical energy today does not even make up one-fifth of global energy consumption. Electricity generation tripled around the world between 1973 and 2009 – total energy consumption portion accounted for by electrical energy thus rose disproportionately. As a result of substitution effects, the importance of electricity in final energy consumption will continue to rise.

Focusing on the system as a whole

Energy demand is closely linked to economic and population growth as the figures show. To ensure an economically viable, environmentally-friendly and socially responsible energy supply in the future, energy demand must be largely decoupled from the growth of the economy and the population. Switzerland and Germany are facing a dual challenge in this context: reducing climate-relevant CO₂ emissions and compensating for the loss of electricity generated by nuclear power plants in the future. The Federal Council's 2050 energy strategy was the first bundle of measures for restructuring the energy system in Switzerland. It envisions restricting final energy consumption to 125 terawatt hours by 2050 which represents around half of current consumption in Switzerland. To achieve the set savings, energy intensity must be reduced annually by two per cent between 2012 and 2050. This transformation is extremely dependent on whether or not new technologies can be developed and cost-effectively deployed within a reasonable timeframe. The planned transition may not concentrate on electricity alone, it has to take all energy consumption into account, including grey energy. Moreover, isolated analysis of individual sectors must be replaced by a comprehensive assessment spanning energy procurement, storage, transport and consumption.

Models for the energy system of tomorrow

The next pages contain three articles which show what “energy efficiency” can mean in concrete terms and the necessary direction of energy supply development. The first article intentionally looks beyond the realm of electricity: we asked a research institution how the energy potential of buildings, which makes up the largest part of energy consumption by far, can be exploited.

To use electricity optimally, there will be no getting around smart networking and coordination of all system participants, i.e. generation facilities, consumers and storage facilities, in the future. A stable grid is based on a balance between generation and consumption. It will become increasingly challenging to establish this balance. The inelastic demand stands in contrast to increasingly volatile and decentralised generation from new renewable energies. To absorb these fluctuations in power generation, it must be possible to adjust consumption more to generation in the future. One approach is a model developed in cooperation between Repower and Swisscom Energy Solutions. We are ultimately pursuing the question of what is needed, in addition to financial incentives, for consumers to deal with energy more responsibly. Jan Marckhoff, CEO of BEN Energy AG, told us about the idea behind efficiency portals and his experiences.