Energy crisis: from challenge to opportunity to accelerate the energy transition

21 November 2022

As the focus at the COP27 and the G20...

As the focus at the COP27 and the G20 last week turned to energy, Europe’s technology industries met in Zurich to discuss their contribution to accelerating the energy transition in the face of today’s energy crisis. Together with the experts at the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) and ETH Zurich, we zoomed in on how to make sector coupling happen, linking different parts of the energy system with enabling technologies to massively increase the availability and efficiency of renewable energy. 

From crisis to opportunity through collaboration 

Opening the conference on Sustainable energy security through sector coupling, Swissmem CEO and incoming Orgalim Chair Stefan Brupbacher identified what turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the afternoon, namely the importance of collaboration: between technology industry sectors, between industry, academia and research centres like PSI and ETH Zurich, and between Switzerland and the rest of Europe, the main market of the heavily export-oriented Swiss technology industries. A theme taken up by Orgalim President Rada Rodriguez, Swissmem President Martin Hirzel and PSI Director Christian Rüegg, who all emphasised that, while the challenges of accelerating and completing the energy transition are considerable and complex, this crisis is also an opportunity to come up with new solutions and be smart about applying existing ones. Dr Rüegg said their simulations have shown it will take 150-300 billion CHF to complete the energy transition just in Switzerland between 2020 and 2050. A huge cost but also, as he pointed out, a huge market for European industry.  

Sector coupling is key 

Homing in on those solutions, further sessions focused on the importance of sector coupling to achieve the transition and net zero. Gianfranco Guidati, from the Energy Science Centre at ETH Zurich, shared a model for a future net-zero energy system for Switzerland. Vividly displayed in transport map style, it mapped how sector coupling is required to reach the net zero target – from photovoltaic capacity to energy storage to different end-user sectors – and showed that it is doable, even if the investment needed is sizeable.  

Tom Kober, from the Energy Systems Analysis Group at PSI, shared some sectoral insights for the pulp and paper industry and the cement sector. In the cement sector, for example, he emphasised the importance of retrofitting existing kilns and the necessity to deploy carbon capture very early on. He also highlighted key cross-cutting technologies needed, notably high-temperature heat pumps in industry and new solutions for increased system flexibility and resilience. 

Swiss energy technology leaders, Raymond Decorvet from MAN Energy Solutions Switzerland, Alexander Beck from Siemens Switzerland and Luca Schmidlin, of synfuels start-up AlphaSYNT, shared their insights into some of the enablers and constraints in practice. They stressed the need to collaborate and connect the dots, the importance of supportive regulation that does not limit the technology options, and the need for finance to take projects from proof of concept over the line to fully developed and proven systems. 

  Our technology industries have a vital role to play in helping Europe demonstrate to the rest of the world that you can combine competitiveness with going climate neutral. 

Malte Lohan

In closing, Orgalim’s Director General, Malte Lohan, summed up the relevance, urgency and importance of the discussion, not just for industry, but for Europe’s future prosperity. “Our technology industries have a vital role to play in helping Europe demonstrate to the rest of the world that you can combine competitiveness with going climate neutral,” he said. “It’s a responsibility we do not take lightly.”  

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