Shaping tomorrow's slopes: II

  12.03.2024 Business, Bergbahn Destination Gstaad, Skiing, Green energy, Carbon Footprint


In an interview with Anzeiger von Saanen, the Cantonal Office for the Environment and Energy was asked about the importance of green hydrogen in the Cantonal energy strategy. We also wanted to know the extent to which ski resorts should pursue sustainability efforts according to the canton and how the office assesses the conclusion of the BDG feasibility study on the hydrogen economy.

What role does the production of green hydrogen play in the Canton of Bern's energy strategy? What opportunities are there?

Hydrogen plays an important role in Switzerland's future energy system. In addition, various political mandates on (green) hydrogen have been passed by the Grand Council of the Canton of Bern. The role of hydrogen is currently being described, and corresponding measures are defined as part of the preparation of the implementation report for the Canton of Bern's 2006 energy strategy for the next period from 2024 to 2027. Among other things, the role of hydrogen in transport is to be highlighted, also with regard to the mobility objective of the energy strategy, but also as a storage medium for surplus renewable electricity.


And what are the risks?

There are uncertainties when it comes to forecasting the development scenarios of a hydrogen economy. On the one hand, this depends on the framework conditions - such as authorisations, subsidies, etc. - and, on the other hand, on a national hydrogen strategy. There are further dependencies on developments in the EU and a possible connection of Switzerland to the European Hydrogen Backbone (editor's note: this is an initiative of 33 European energy infrastructure operators who want to drive forward the expansion of the hydrogen infrastructure).


Does the canton of Bern see a future for the energy transition in green hydrogen?

Yes, as things currently stand, primarily in transport, for (daily) storage, for (high-temperature) process heat in industry, and for covering peak loads in thermal grids.


Are there already projects in the canton of Bern to produce green hydrogen?

Concrete implementation projects are underway as part of projects at the Wyss Academy for Nature at the University of Bern and in the context of energy supply security. Examples include hydrogen production for hydrogen-powered shipping on Lakes Thun and Brienz, electrolysers for daily storage at large ground-mounted solar installations, electrolysers at run-of-river power plants for hydrogen fuel production for petrol stations and hydrogen for snow grooming.


Does the Canton of Bern support hydrogen projects?

Feasibility studies for large production plants in renewable energies are eligible for funding. For example, a feasibility study for hydrogen shipping on Lakes Thun and Brienz and the hydrogen refuelling station at the Grauholz service station were funded. The promotion of hydrogen infrastructures, for example, is constantly under review and is also dependent on the canton's budget and the federal government's framework conditions.


To what extent does the canton of Bern welcome sustainability efforts and the decarbonisation of ski resorts?

The canton very much welcomes this with regard to the net-zero target in accordance with the constitution of the Canton of Bern and the sustainability goals.


Are ski resorts subject to certain framework conditions from the canton to ensure that all ski resorts strive for sustainability and embrace decarbonisation? Or is there a reward system for those who take on this issue?

From an energy and climate protection perspective, currently, there is not.


Under what conditions does the Canton of Bern see a future for ski resorts?

They must be able to be operated and designed sustainably, taking into account the goal of net zero and the consequences of climate change.


The feasibility study by Bergbahnen Destination Gstaad AG has shown that the technical production of green hydrogen is only economical if ground-mounted PV systems produce electricity. It assumes five to ten centimes per kilowatt hour. How does the Canton of Bern assess this conclusion?

Under the current framework conditions, the economic production of green hydrogen ideally takes place directly on-site at large energy generation plants, such as run-of-river power plants, large PV plants, or wind power plants. With the planned federal subsidy, Alpine PV systems could produce around eight to twelve centimes of electricity per kilowatt hour.


How did the canton of Bern react to the news that the Saanen municipal assembly rejected the SolSarine large-scale PV plant project?

The canton has regretfully taken note of the decision of the Saanen local authority.


What target has the canton of Bern set itself for the expansion of renewable energies, and where does it stand?

The Canton of Bern's energy strategy up to 2035 defines sectoral targets; for example, 70 percent of heat generation and 80 percent of electricity generation should be renewable. These targets are currently being reviewed and scrutinised in preparing the implementation report for 2024-2027. This is also in view of the new national targets for the expansion of renewable energies and the net-zero target by 2050.  And we are positive about achieving this target.

This interview was conducted in writing by Jocelyne Page for the AvS.


What are grid costs? And why must every PV system be connected to the public grid? Are there also exceptions, for example, for ground-mounted PV systems? Markus Ehinger-Camenisch, media spokesman for BKW, explains.

A basic question: If I have my own PV system on my roof, does it always have to run via the BKW grid, even if I need all the electricity produced for my household?
Markus Ehinger-Camenisch: Yes, you can use the electricity you produce with your own photovoltaic system directly in your household. This is known as self-consumption. However, it is important to understand that you use the electricity grid even if you consume all the electricity produced by your system yourself. This is because the grid ensures that you are always supplied with energy, even if your system is not producing electricity at night or in bad weather, for example. Therefore, owners of photovoltaic systems also contribute to the costs of the grid.


So, I still incur grid costs even if I use the electricity myself?
MEC: It is a widespread misconception that self-consumption does not incur any grid costs. This is because photovoltaic system owners also use the grid. For owners of photovoltaic systems, this means that they pay grid costs even if they consume all the electricity their system produces. This is because they also use the grid, for example, in the winter months or when the sun is not shining, just like all other consumers.


Can you define what grid costs mean?
MEC: Grid costs are the fees every electricity consumer pays for using the grid. These charges cover the annual costs of the grid, which are distributed among the end consumers. The basis for these charges is mostly the amount of electricity drawn from the grid. It is important to understand that the grid's costs are mainly incurred due to expansion and only to a very small extent because of consumption. Therefore, the self-consumer does not save any grid costs under the current system.


If, for example, a hydrogen economy is installed, can the electricity from the ground-mounted PV systems be fed directly into the electrolyser without the electricity having to run via the BKW grid? Does this eliminate the grid costs?
MEC: This is what is known as a stand-alone grid. In a stand-alone grid, the electricity from ground-mounted PV systems with potential hydrogen production plants would be utilised directly on-site without having to run via the public grid. In such a scenario, in which no electricity is drawn from the grid or fed into the grid, no grid costs would be incurred. However, it is important to emphasise that the distribution grid plays a crucial role in terms of the security of supply. Even if a system is able to produce the required electricity itself, there are always times when production is insufficient or the system requires maintenance. The public grid is essential to ensure a continuous power supply in these cases.

In addition, the public grid offers a high level of supply reliability that a stand-alone grid can never achieve.


What is BKW's recommendation for a stand-alone grid?
MEC: It is important to remember that the public grid offers better cost efficiency than a stand-alone grid due to its size and variety of energy sources. Therefore, it makes economic sense to continue to rely on the public grid and distribute the grid costs fairly among all users. BKW always endeavours to keep grid costs as low as possible while ensuring high supply security. We believe that this is the best way to successfully shape the energy transition while protecting the interests of our customers.

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