Switzerland Needs Energy, But What Kind?

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) With the Electricity Law, the Swiss government and parliament aim to promote domestically produced renewable energies. The goal is to secure supply and reduce the use of carbon fuels. Voters will decide on this on June 9.

This content was published on April 19, 2024 - 09:00 7 minutes

Switzerland has many faces, and each has many stories to tell. I am interested in the country in all its diversity. I write about agriculture and banks, diplomats and folk-style wrestlers, but also industrial excellence and cultural achievements.

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How did the vote on the Electricity Law come about?

The so-called Electricity Law consists of a whole package of laws that were developed over many years and passed in parliament last year. Because it combines numerous measures, it is also referred to as a blanket decree. The laws are intended to enable Switzerland to produce more electricity from water, sun and wind.

Two Swiss interests come together in the legislative package: first, Switzerland's energy strategy foresees switching to renewable energies. In 2023, it committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in a popular vote on the Climate Protection Act.

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At the same time, after the reactor disaster in Fukushima in 2011, Switzerland decided to phase out nuclear energy in the longer term. In addition, Russia's war against Ukraine has shown that energy imports from abroad can be politically or economically risky.

An alliance of smaller environmental organisations launched a referendum against the bill at the beginning of the year. The people are therefore required to vote on it on June 9.

What is the Electricity Law about?

The focus of the law is securing Switzerland's electricity supply via renewable energies, especially in winter. Switzerland is currently dependent on energy imports during the winter months. The most important planned step towards increasing Switzerland's energy autonomy is to build new hydropower plants. Specifically, the government plans to facilitate the construction of 16 hydropower projects.

However, the law will also enable the rapid expansion of solar energy on buildings and infrastructure via subsidies. The government estimates that electricity generation from solar energy can be increased fivefold by 2035.

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And finally, permit procedures for wind power projects are to be simplified and objections made more difficult in some designated areas.

The entire legislative package is important because electric cars, heat pumps and industry will also need more electricity in future. The government and parliament want to counteract a potential shortage resulting from decarbonisation. They also hope to achieve lower, more stable prices with a domestic supply of electricity.

What is the state of Switzerland's electricity supply?

Most electricity in Switzerland already comes from renewable energies, mainly hydropower, which accounted for 56% of the supply in 2023; 7% came from solar, wind and biomass, and 37% from nuclear power.

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Switzerland usually produces enough electricity throughout the year, but it has been a net importer for some years now. It produces particularly large quantities in summer, when it can export. In winter, however, it is dependent on imports.

View of Mont Soleil: Switzerland always has enough electricity in summer thanks to water, wind and sun. Keystone/Valentin Flauraud

What does the Yes camp say about the Electricity Law?

According to advocates, there is always a risk of shortages, especially in winter.“Security of supply can only be achieved in the short and medium term by expanding domestic electricity production from renewable sources,” says Energy Minister Albert Rösti.“If you want more electricity and independence, vote yes.”

The measures in the law are balanced, supporters emphasise. Parliament worked long and hard on the bill before finally passing it with a large majority in the House of Representatives (117 votes in favour, 19 against) and unanimously in the Senate. Seen in this light, the bill is a model for a good federal compromise in that all the parties in parliament view it with“moderate dissatisfaction”, as Rösti said.

Those in favour of the measures are hoping for more Swiss-produced electricity, especially in winter. They say that the measures adopted are environmentally friendly and will also keep the price of electricity stable.

Who are the opponents of the Electricity Law and what do they want?

Vera Weber

The opposition comprises two very different camps. One is the Franz Weber Foundation, which campaigns for the protection of the landscape, animals and nature. The foundation can have an impact. In 2012, its second-home initiative won a victory, something very few initiatives achieve. Then, as now, its fight was against“landscape blight”. Together with two other small environmental organisations it launched a referendum against the Electricity Law after other, larger environmental associations gave up their initial opposition because their concerns had been taken into account. Vera Weber, the president of the foundation, says“it is absurd to sacrifice nature on the altar of the climate”.

The second key driver against the law is the right-wing Swiss People's Party and its parliamentarian Magdalena Martullo-Blocher. She says the Electricity Law will generate far less electricity than is needed and is just“a drop in the ocean”.

Martullo-Blocher, too, uses landscape protection as an argument: she raises the spectre of 9,000 wind turbines being built and huge areas of land being covered with solar panels. Martullo-Blocher managed to pull her party, which was still in favour of the law in parliament, into the opposing camp. One reason for this is that the People's Party hopes a no vote will give new impetus to nuclear power.

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What will happen if the Electricity Law is rejected?

The debate over nuclear power would probably gain momentum. With the“No Blackout Initiative”, which aims to end the Swiss nuclear phase-out, this issue will soon be put to the people anyway. However, a yes vote on the Electricity Law would make this initiative less compelling, while a no vote would make it more important. So whether the government submits a counterproposal to this initiative will therefore partly depend on the outcome of the vote on the Electricity Law. There is agreement in all camps that the construction of nuclear power plants in Switzerland could in any case take decades due to the scope for objections at numerous levels.

In the event of a no vote, the question of a complete, independent Swiss electricity supply would remain open. The existing laws would stay in force, but individual subsidies would expire. Those in favour of the Electricity Law say emergency measures would probably be needed for the winter in the event of a no vote. The most likely options in the short term would be fossil fuels, i.e. gas-fired power plants – or increased electricity imports.

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For and against:


  • The government and parliament
  • Radical-Liberal Party, Centre Party, Social Democrats, Liberal Greens, Greens
  • Economiesuisse, Conference of Cantonal Governments, unions, WWF, Pro Natura, Greenpeace, Swiss Landscape Protection Foundation


  • Swiss People's Party
  • Franz Weber Foundation, Swiss Free Landscape Association

Abstaining from taking a position:

  • Federal Democratic Union

Adapted from German by Catherine Hickley

Articles in this story
  • Swiss approve net-zero climate law
  • Study to assess if Swiss nuclear reactors could operate beyond 2030
  • Switzerland's domestic energy resources to run out by Thursday

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