Swiss MPs give ‘Cleantech’ energy proposal a clear ‘no’


Energy was the topic of the day in the National Council yesterday, with MPs staging an hours-long debate on the “Cleantech” Initiative from the Social Democrats. The initiative urges a quick expansion of renewable energy sources in the country by 2030, claiming also to create jobs. The debate was polarizing at times though the vote tally was indisputable: 111 to 68 advising voters say no. WRS’s Tony Ganzer has highlights from the debate.

The Social Democrats’ Cleantech initiative is being sold to voters on many fronts. It will mandate the percentage of Swiss power from renewable sources be 50 percent by 2030. It is a job creator, proponents say, and it will allow Switzerland to be energy independent, a point Social Democrat Eric Nussbaumer emphasized.

NUSSBAUMER: “Faster pace with the changes to renewable energy are necessary if our country wants to reduce dependency on gas and oil from Russia or OPEC states. Who doesn’t want to quicken this pace, will awaken anger during the next energy fight over gas shortages or oil prices.”

Part of this will be accomplished by increasing energy efficiency, but also through targeted subsidies, which drew much criticism from the political right. They think subsidies spoil a free market. Hans Killer is a Swiss People’s Party MP from Aargau.

KILLER. “There are enough examples all over Europe, where an extreme government influence and intervention for renewable production leads. Spain is the most powerful example for bad policy.”

Spain and Germany were strong into the photo-voltaic production markets, and other technologies. But many companies felt the pinch when the economic crisis began pressuring many sectors of the economy. Still, Social Democrat Margret Kiener-Nellen from Bern said Switzerland needs a wake up.

KIENER-NELLEN: “Switzerland is still stuck sleeping when it comes to renewable energy. The initiative—new jobs thanks to renewable energy—gives us a push. A push for new sustainable jobs.”

But some opposition has rested on the idea of changing renewable targets at all. Swiss People’s Party MP Christoph Blocher.

BLOCHER: “I would be happy if we could finally vote about this adventurous energy policy you’re exaggerating. Mr. Girod you laugh—but I heard you, you don’t know what a strategy is. You said you are bringing three strategies and you bring three goals!”

Blocher’s appearance awoke questions from other MPs, especially after he suggested other another lawmaker use a Duden dictionary to learn about strategies. Social Democrat Jacqueline Badran said the Duden isn’t the only book with answers. Blocher replied.

BLOCHER: “I thank you for the witty instruction. I advised him to go to the Duden so he wouldn’t have to go to such a complicated book. But I must say I have led companies my whole life with strategies. And with goals you can’t do it.”

The National Council’s Environment, Planning, and Energy Committee has pursued amendments to the Energy Act as a kind of indirect counter-proposal to the Social Democrats’ Initiative.

If changes to business incentives or renewable targets are made before an initiative, maybe the initiative will be dropped. Supporters are waiting to see what the Council of States says before deciding what to do.

Swiss scientists consider climate change scenarios, and the future looks warmer

Switzerland is likely heating up. Swiss scientists met in Zurich yesterday to unveil the C-H-2011 report, showing three possible climate change scenarios. They all hinge on decisions lawmakers make or don’t make, and the rate of greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere. But as WRS’s Tony Ganzer reports, the scientists agree temperatures are rising.

Climate scientist Andreas Weigel is quick to point out, the report isn’t laying out predictions of the Switzerland to come, just possibilities.

WEIGEL: “We cannot do forecasts of how greenhouse gas emissions continue, we can make assumptions, scenarios.”

Weigel works for the Swiss national weather service MeteoSwiss, which was part of a scientific coalition of climate experts and academics to put hard numbers to three scenarios of climate change depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

WEIGEL: “The scenarios reveal that with continually increasing emissions of greenhouse gases temperatures will rise all over Switzerland, in all seasons. They also reveal that even if now efficient measures were taken to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions there would still be a committed warming, which however would be much lower.”

Two of the scenarios look at temperatures if no measures are taken to reduce emissions. Depending on region, the seasonal mean temperature would increase between 2.7 and 4.8 degrees by the end of the century. Rainfall would drop between 18 and 28 percent in the two scenarios. If emissions are reduced, the temperature would likely still climb 1.2 to 1.8 degrees, and rainfall would drop about 10 percent.

KNUTTI: “We are not in a position to say what the right pathway is.”

Reto Knutti is a professor in climate physics at the ETH Zurich.

KNUTTI: “We’re basically saying what would happen if we did certain things. Clearly what we do is a political and a decision of our society as a whole. It’s clear that the pathway of future greenhouse gas emissions is very important.”

Knutti says the scientists are not giving recommendations on how to reverse changes, and he says it’s unclear what direction politicians will take. But he thinks Switzerland should do something, despite it being a small country.

KNUTTI: “Clearly if only Switzerland is doing something, that’s not worth too much, but I think that we have a responsibility along with all the other people on this planet to do something. And I would say we are in a better position to do something because we have well-educated people, we have a political system where we can do something, we have actually enough money to do something, we have technology. We should see it as an opportunity to actually lead maybe Europe or the world into maybe a better world.”

Near the glaciers in the Swiss Alps.

STOCKER: “I think that the report makes it abundantly clear that we do have a choice.”

Thomas Stocker is a climate and environmental physicist at the University of Bern. He also co-chairs working group 1, of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, or IPCC:

STOCKER: “We do have a choice today whether the temperatures worldwide will be at the lower end of the projections of IPCC, and hence also the projections that have been presented in this report C-H 2011. Or if business as usual prevails we will end up with large climate change, large impacts, and at the end of the day this also costs a lot of money to adapt to ever-growing climate change. That needs to be considered.”

The authors of C-H 2011 are making their data available to impact modelers, the folks who try to predict specific climate change impacts, like if glaciers will melt faster.

Thomas Stocker says the type of regional models that come from this type of research could ultimately be adapted to other regions, including the developing world. He says from all the data one thing is clear—the climate is changing.

Solar Impulse Exclusive: Link to Interview with pilot Andre Borschberg

Control room
The sun is long gone, and the countdown to dawn is ticking away.  The crowds of press and crew have dwindled to a minimum at the Payerne airfield.  I am one of a handful of people awake and alert during this event.  A photographer once told me the key to a good picture is timing.  “You just need to be there,” he said.  That is also true of journalism.  At 1 a.m. I was allowed into the sacred heart of this Solar Impulse project to interview pilot Andre Borschberg.  I and a French journalist were the only two allowed into the control room, and the interviews were broadcast at

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Solar Impulse: Interview with Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard
Solar Impulse is in the air, and has been flying for 12 hours gathering solar energy from its 12,000 solar panels affixed to its massive wings.  Your humble correspondent had a few minutes with Bertrand Piccard, the lead of the Solar Impulse project and the first man to circumnavigate the Earth in a hot air balloon.  Here is my interview with Piccard, giving the latest. (as of 1800, 7June10.)

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Solar Plane Soars through the Night

Solar Impulse

UPDATE: The flight was postponed due to a transmitter failure.  The flight has been rescheduled for Wed, 07 July 10.  Weather permitting, this flight will conclude on the morning of 08 July.

This morning (8a, Thursday) will mark a milestone for the world’s largest, manned solar plane.  The Swiss-made Solar Impulse will be flown through the night using only power gathered from the sun.  This would be the first time a solar plane makes it through the night, and is a vital step toward the project’s ultimate aim of flying around the world using just solar power.   WRS’s Tony Ganzer will be covering the night flight and brings us this report.

Though solar planes and projects have been met with some skepticism, the industry is closely watching the crew of the Solar Impulse.  The team is hoping its solar-powered aircraft will become the first such manned plane to make it through the night with just stored solar power..

“It is not a challenge to fly with a solar airplane for hundreds of kilometers,” said Rudolf Voit-Nitschmann, a professor of airplane design at the University of Stuttgart.

“And the challenge for Solar Impulse—the first major milestone—is to show the airplane can fly the whole day and even the whole night.  This was not shown up till now with a manned airplane,” he added.

Voit-Nitschmann has been watching Solar Impulse closely, and is no stranger to solar planes.  In 2003 he broke an unofficial distance record with his own solar plane flying for more than 200 miles.  But this night flight is uncharted territory for this technology.

“The most challenging item is to get around the night; that means: to start up a plane during the day—you have solar energy available, to recharge your batteries, and then you can fly through the night, because of course during the night you don’t have any solar energy,” Nitschmann said.

Just as the night flight is a milestone, the Solar Impulse project itself has taken solar plane technology to its most modern and extreme edge.  In Solar Impulse’s 7-year history, it has developed and tested many technologies, like the effects of high altitude and cold on the solar panels to be affixed to the plane’s wings.

The plane itself is ground-breaking—its wing-span is 61 meters, or about half the length of the largest football pitches.  Put simply, the plane is a giant glider with solar-powered electric turbines, and is testing what engineers can do with available technology.

The project is spearheaded by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, the first man to go non-stop around the world in a hot air balloon.

“When you do something that no one has done before of course you are nervous, of course you are anxious,” Piccard said last year at his plane’s unveiling.  “The test will not be directly a big flight.  It will be an epic—first one meter off the ground, then two meters, then 10 meters, then 100 meters, then 1000 meters, then we will spend the night in the air, then we will cross the US, the Atlantic, and then around the world.”

In other words, the project is taking baby steps, and this night flight is one giant hurdle to overcome.

Rudolph Voit-Nitschmann at the University of Stuttgart is convinced Solar Impulse will probably not change everyday flight, but could influence technologies to come.

“People seeing, okay, if you can fly with an airplane around the world with solar energy why you do not do other things with solar energy?” Nitschmann said.

And this flight at night, is one flight closer to Solar Impulse’s ultimate goal to circle the Earth.

German Firms Poised to Profit in the U.S.


The United States Senate is now looking into a sweeping piece of energy legislation which narrowly passed through the House of Representatives last month.   The bill proposes wide-scale changes to the U-S energy system, including among other things adding a cap and trade system on carbon emissions, and allotting funds for major investment in clean technologies.   But as the U-S tries to position itself in the renewable energy market, it may find fierce competition from German companies already setting up shop state-side.   This is especially true in one of the sunniest states, Arizona .  Tony Ganzer reports.

Read a print version of this story here.

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Part 3: Energy Lessons from Others?


All this week we’re looking at renewable energy in Arizona, and hearing how one world leader in the industry, Germany, is doing business.  Some observers see Arizona’s progress in the renewable energy game slow-going, motivated mostly by tax incentives for companies and customers to go “green.”  As KJZZ’s Tony Ganzer reports, the tax structure and policy in Europe is much more aggressive, but may not be the answer for Arizona.

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