The energy sector in Switzerland is, by its structure and its importance, typical of a developed country. Apart from the hydro and biomass, the country has few indigenous energy resources: petroleum, gas and nuclear fuel are imported, so that in 2006 only 15% of final requirements have been covered by local resources..
The energy economy in Switzerland developed as the rest of Europe, but with some delay until 1850. There are three different periods. The agrarian society until the mid-nineteenth century, a small scale energy economy based on wood and biomass (plants feeding the animal and human labour), which was in general renewable energy. Also used were wind power and hydraulic power, and, from the eighteenth century, indigenous coal.
The industrial society, from 1860 to 1950, had to import coal as it was the main source of energy but not much available as a natural resource. Also an important source of energy was water power at low or high pressure. Then came the consumer society, which needs mostly oil and natural gas and, to a lesser extent, water power (turbines) and later nuclear energy. The oil crisis and pollution of the environment prompted to make use (in a limited extent) of renewable energy. It is notable that 100% of the Swiss railway network is electrified: - the high proportion of energy generated through hydroelectric power and the lack of natural resources (e.g. coal and oil) help to explain why such a situation is strategically beneficial in Switzerland.
The Swiss government has set a target to cut fossil fuel use 20% by the year 2020 Most of the energy produced within Switzerland is renewable from Hydropower and biomass. However this only accounts for around 15% of total overall energy consumption as the other 85% of energy used is imported, mostly derived from fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Based on the estimated mean production level, hydropower still accounted for almost 90% of domestic electricity production at the beginning of the 1970s, but this figure fell to around 60% by 1985 following the commissioning of Switzerland's nuclear power plants, and is now around 56%. Hydropower therefore remains Switzerland's most important domestic source of renewable energy. Hydro energy was meaning to be taken down in 2013 with new laws on energy to be put in place but they were scrapped for a more eco friendly plan.
Hydroelectric companies received support from the state (for instance in the 2010s). Critics pointed out the lack of independence of the political institutions (cantonal and federal), of which several elected members are connected with the hydroelectric industry.
There has been a proposal to produce around 600 GWh (< 0.2%) of electricity per annum using wind turbines by 2030.
Solar energy in Switzerland currently only accounts for 0.04% of total energy production. Currently the cost of solar energy is significantly higher than competing sources in Switzerland such as hydro. As costs of solar come down it is likely to become more market competitive. It is currently subsidised in an attempt to make it more competitive and attractive.
Switzerland's per capita electricity consumption is slightly higher than that of its neighbours.
Production of electricity (2008):Hydropower plants, 56%
Nuclear power plants, 39%
Thermal power and other power plants, 5%
The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). SwissEnergy is a program aiming at promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy with the collaboration of the cantons and municipalities, and partners from trade and industry, environmental and consumer organisations.
A report was published in 2011 by the World Energy Council in association with Oliver Wyman, entitled Policies for the future: 2011 Assessment of country energy and climate policies, which ranks country performance according to an energy sustainability index. The best performers were Switzerland, Sweden and France.
A study published in 2009 showed that the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) due to the electricity consumed in Switzerland (total: 5.7 millions of tonnes) are seven times higher than the emissions of carbon dioxide due to the electricity produced in Switzerland (total: 0.8 millions of tonnes).
The study also showed that the production in Switzerland (64.6 TWh) is similar to the amount of electricity consumed in the country (63.7 TWh). Overall, Switzerland export 7.6 TWh and import 6.8 TWh; but, in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide, Switzerland export "clean" electricity causing emissions of 0.1 millions of tonnes of CO2 and import "dirty" electricity causing emissions of 5 millions of tonnes of CO2.
The electricity produced in Switzerland generated about 14 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt hour. The electricity consumed in Switzerland generated about 100 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt hour.