Life as we know it can continue into the future only if fossil fuels are rapidly replaced with renewable energy sources and combined with a drastic increase in efficient usage. However, the progress on the transition to next generation energy is slow. Where do we stand at Z43, in Switzerland, and globally with regard to a zero emissions target? How far have technologies progressed, and what are the most urgent gaps and needs that research must address?
These and other questions were discussed at this year's Z43 retreat, entitled "Energy Demystified - Science & Technology, Economics & Scalability, & Behaviorism," held at Huus Gstaad, January 23–24, 2023.
Traditionally, the program consists of book presentations, supplemented as appropriate by internet research and other scientific sources. This year's retreat featured Vaclav Smil's "Energy and Civilization: A History" and "How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We're Going," "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need" by Bill Gates, and "Sustainable Energy -Without the Hot Air" by David J. C. MacKay. Prof. em. Anton Gunzinger was invited as a guest speaker to present his book "Kraftwerk Schweiz – So gelingt die Energiewende".
Presentations covered the history of energy and energy resources, the evaluation of efficiency and emissions, energy consumption in Switzerland and the rest of the world, and the various technologies that offer zero emissions or neutrality, such as nuclear power, solar energy, wind and hydro energy, geothermal energy, and bioenergy. These were complemented by reviews of energy distribution and storage infrastructure, CO2 harvesting, and synthetic fuels.
In addition to country-specific and global figures on energy consumption, figures including grey energy consumed at Z43 were also assessed. In June 2020, our 500-kW heat pump, which exchanges heat with the groundwater stream that runs 30 meters below our site, and photovoltaic cells to generate electricity were put into operation. The energy is continuously monitored can be viewed here. To date, this has resulted in a reduction of CO2 emissions of close to 200,000 cubic meters compared to our previous situation of gas burners in the basement and warm-water panels on the roof. In addition, we switched to electricity from 100% renewable sources by subscribing to companies that exclusively generate electricity by hydro, wind, and solar power.
The evaluation shows that the transport of sold goods has the highest energy consumption and CO2 emissions, followed by the grey energy related to the goods sold. In third place is energy consumption in the buildings, now with neglectible CO2 emissions.
The implications of these findings and the potential to pursue “low-hanging-fruit” measures to significantly reduce our carbon footprint were discussed in working groups. Z43 is committed to further refining and implementing these findings in the short term to become more sustainable.
A big thank you to all participants for their great work and perseverance during the two very busy and discussion-filled days!