Clean Energy in Switzerland

Patrick Conaton
October 5, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: View of Lake Zurich and surrounding Alps. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

With growing concerns over green-house gas emissions, countries around the world are debating or implementing renewable energy policies. With their diverse topography (Fig. 1) Switzerland, in particular, has fundamentally been a pioneer for the past decade. Today, nearly two-thirds of the energy consumed by Switzerland is produced from renewable sources. Hydro (60%) and wind, solar and biomass (5%) sources account for the majority of the energy produced (Fig. 2). [1]

In 2011, Switzerland made the decision to eventually phase out its use of nuclear reactors for energy production and in 2016, the country approved the Energy Strategy 2050 proposal to further develop clean energy. [1] In the past decade, Switzerland has not just spoken about or attempted going green but rather has made waves around the world in this sector. In fact, under the newly approved legislature, Switzerland's renewable power sources is expected to produce 11,400 GWh by 2035. [1]

2050 Energy Strategy

In May of 2017, Switzerland approved the Federal Energy Act, also known as the Energy Strategy 2050 plan. This policy is a reflection of Switzerland's commitment to further implement energy efficiency mechanisms. The most important, yet also controversial, proposal of this policy is the commitment to withdraw from nuclear energy production. Switzerland currently has five nuclear plants that provide for a third of the energy consumed in the country. Ultimately, Switzerland will need to further develop its already dependable production of renewable energy. [1] The approval of a policy of this magnitude further cements Switzerland as a pioneer for sustainable energy worldwide. Though the policy has its challenges, Switzerland already has a strong foundation of producing reusable energy. While hydropower is already an important domestic source of energy, wind, solar, and hydro power has the potential to become even more important and aid in Switzerland's transition to becoming 100% sustainable. [1]

Fig. 2: Percentage of Energy Produced by Switzerland by Sector, 2016 [1] (Source: P. Conaton)


Hydropower has always been an important aspect of Switzerlands energy production. Before the first nuclear plants were installed in the 1970s, hydropower accounted for nearly 90% of Switzerlands electricity. Today, it is the most important domestic source of renewable energy. With mountain ranges covered with snowy glaciers and streams flowing into rivers and lakes found across the country, Switzerlands natural environment is home to one of the worlds richest water supplies. As such, there are more than 600 hydropower plants in the country that have produced over half of the energy produced in Switzerland. [2] The strength of hydroelectric energy production will allow Switzerland to begin its transition.

Wind Power

Although not as pertinent right now as hydropower, wind power is increasingly becoming another important source of energy in Switzerland. While wind power production has been increasing, it potentially faces a big hurdle: social acceptance. Switzerland has had a hard time building new wind farms in the face of public reluctance to allow for the replacement of untouched landscape. However, with ambitious goals for renewable energy production and consumption, Switzerland is still continually expanding this sector of its energy. [3]

© Patrick Conaton. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Shields and J. Miller, "Swiss Voters Embrace Shift to Renewable Energy," Reuters, 21 May 17.

[2] "Where is Switzerland's Hydropower Heading?" Semi-Annual Report 2014, Repower, 2014, p. 12.

[3] A. Tabi and R. Wustenhagen, "Befragung der Anwohner von möglichen Windparks in der Ostschweiz," Universität St. Gallen, November 2015.