How we're ready to "change everything”
The Future of energy
With awareness of climate change’s social, economic, and political risks approaching a tipping point, a global consensus is being reached. And that consensus agrees that the future of energy production and distribution will need to be very different from the models of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here at CSEM, we believe that if we are to meet these enormous challenges in time to make a significant positive difference to global warming, holistic technological solutions—which include not only green energy production but storage, distribution, and efficiency—will have to play an essential role.

CSEM has been active in this technological drive to find clean solutions to energy production, storage, and management for over a decade. This long-term effort was significantly reinforced with the establishment, in 2013, of CSEM’s PV-center—an industry-driven, application-oriented program within CSEM created to bring new high-tech solutions for solar components and systems to technological maturity, and to serve the Swiss and global renewable energy industries.

The CSEM PV-center promises to inject the sector with a new dynamism and is structured around four main activities:

CSEM’s work in PV is complemented by its initiatives in the field of global energy systems, focusing as they do on two key areas—energy efficiency and power systems. By developing sensing and control technologies for buildings, using a variety of algorithms and integrating multifunction PV components, CSEM is pushing the frontier of reducing energy consumption in the building sector. And our work in power systems aims to develop a global approach to managing decentralized electricity production and storage and intelligent integration of renewable energy into existing infrastructures. In addition, CSEM’s recent collaboration with the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH), together creating the BFH–CSEM Energy Storage Research Center (ESReC), is further proof of CSEM’s engagement to find global solutions for the entire energy chain.

By combining our long-standing expertise in solar cell production, which spans the entire range of current PV technology, with a global approach to energy storage and distribution, CSEM is at the forefront of the change needed to ensure sustainable energy production in the twenty-first century and beyond.

 

CSEM's Business Day World Café roundtable on the future of energy

During CSEM’s November 2015 Business Day, Daniel Brandt, Head of the Technology Center at BKW, and Suren Erkman, professor in the Industrial Ecology Group of the University of Lausanne, led a discussion with industry experts on the future of energy for Swiss industry, and for the planet as a whole.

A historical approach

Suren Erkman began the World Café discussion by giving an overview of the historical practices deeply embedded within the industrial ecosystem. According to Erkman, the industrial system is based upon the massive abundance of “freely available” energy, or energy that can be used for various purposes beyond survival. And demand for this freely available energy is increasing further, for as the industrial system grows and matures it not only requires more energy for growth, it also needs increasing amounts of energy to maintain its growing metabolism. As Erkman asks, “From where will all of this energy come—for we certainly do not have unlimited access to energy resources.”

The increasing appetite of the industrial world for ever greater sources of energy poses several challenges: the ecological impact of energy consumption and production; the declining energy payback of traditional sources such as fossil fuels; low energy concentration from renewable sources such as solar and wind; and, finally, what Erkman calls the “rebound effect”—where increasingly efficient means of energy production and consumption (low-power electronics, for example) could paradoxically escalate energy consumption as demand also increases.

The BKW perspective

BKW is one of Switzerland’s largest energy providers. Active internationally, it is vigorously pursuing renewable energy—in the form of solar and wind—as a viable alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear, in Switzerland and Europe, and around the world. BKW’s Daniel Brandt highlighted the fact that BKW is itself in a transitional phase, “evolving from a traditional electricity producer to Switzerland’s leading provider of complete energy solutions.”

Brandt also highlighted growing trends in the sector and discussed how BKW was addressing them and adapting its business model accordingly. He explained that the move away from a natural monopoly toward the globalization of free, customer-oriented markets, led by advances in technology such as home production of solar energy and scalable approaches to individual energy management, have incited BKW to focus on developing energy networks and to expand its services. Brandt concluded by stating that the company plans on investing CHF 4 billion by 2024, including CHF 1 billion for new investments in renewable energy and another billion in service expansion.

The energy transition: How we’re ready to “change everything”

And the outcome of the discussion that followed the presentations?—unanimity. From a technological standpoint, nothing is stopping society from making the transition to more flexible and sustainable energy production and distribution. But having the technological ability to do so is not enough; policies need to be implemented that lead the way to a smart and smooth transition to the new energy economy. On this matter, the discussion raised several important open questions:

  • How can we incentivize renewable energies for all members of society?
  • How can we cope with the increasing complexity of energy systems?
  • How do we share responsibilities within this new system?
  • How can bigger and older companies make the transition to the new energy economy?

And while we may see many energy companies fade away in the face of the challenge of implementing a sustainable energy system, new companies that provide individualized solutions will fill that void. What is important, above all, is the political and economic will to implement new policies that favor this change; and politicians and economic actors who are not afraid of a new energy future.

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