Swiss growth stunted by high costs and low payments

A 1998 status report of Swiss wind market, which has only 2.6 MW of wind power running. The article examines why the market is near standstill, where only one new machine went in the ground in 1998, bringing the total number in operation to 14.

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With only 2.6 MW of wind power running, the Swiss wind market continued its lacklustre ways during 1998. Only one new machine went in the ground last year, bringing the total number in operation to 14 -- just five of them of a substantial size. With only about 2.7 GWh of power currently being generated from wind turbines, Switzerland's wind energy potential of 1.6 TWh annually is sorely under used.

Robert Horbaty, head of the wind energy program at Bundesamt für Energie, the federal energy office, regrets that his optimistic prediction of a year ago came true for only one turbine installation in 1998 (Windpower Monthly, March 1998). A Vestas 660 kW unit was installed in October as the fourth turbine in the Mount Crosin wind station owned by Juvent, a joint venture company in which utility Berne Kraftwerke (BKW) has the majority stake. BKW will not install more turbines in the near future because of the high costs of wind generated power, reports Jakob Vollenweider of the utility.

BKW's concern over costs echoes throughout the country. Generation costs average CHF 0.20-0.25/kWh, yet since 1991 utilities have paid only CHF 0.16/kWh for wind power under a regulation on energy use. The gap has had to be filled by subsidies, or by end customers willing to pay a premium. A new energy ruling from January 1 is now under review, but the old tariffs are still in force.

Horbaty remains optimistic, saying many projects are in the pipeline, although planning will take some time. He dares to make another prediction. "If everything goes well, one new wind farm should be set up this year," he says.

With its snail speed development, wind can make little contribution to the Swiss Energy 2000 program. Inititated in 1990, this aims to have 3% of Swiss heating demands and 0.5% of the total electricity needs covered with renewables by the end of 2000. This aim might be achieved through high energy production from biomass and hydro, says Wilfried Blum of the Swiss utility association.

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