Day 8: From theory to real-world application: energy in action

Written by Darya Latour

Our day started at SIG (Services Industriels de Genève), one of Switzerland’s biggest multi-utility company, providing Geneva’s gas, electricity, water as well as managing waste and producing district heating. Professor Martin Patel’s brief introduction informed us about Switzerland’s energy status and put forwards the fact that the electricity sector is strongly regulated and very conservative which makes it hard for SIG to implement goals for energy efficiency in legislation. However, despite this, SIG has been one of the main environmental actors in Geneva…

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The building in which we were welcomed by Cédric Jeanneret was an annex that provides a working space for the administration. However, this building has a great importance as it was primarily built in case the headquarters are destroyed and the room we were sitting in had a symbolic value as all the energy system of Geneva could be controlled from there.

Cedric, the speaker, put the emphasis on the duality of the perception of energy; according to him, not only is it about the people who produce it but also the people who consume. Therefore, SIG takes this duality into account throughout its actions: the company provides energy but is also in charge of the way the consumer uses it. The aim is to control the consumption through programs such as the Eco21 program.

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Eco21 program’s goal is to save electricity and carbon dioxide by incentivising consumers to change their consumption habits, through advertising the program, spreading information, rewarding energy savings with money, as well as providing online tools to measure progress such as stimulators and saving calculators. This program helps customers to have a more energy efficient lifestyle by giving advice to households for instance to replace their heating system with a new one based on renewable energies or placing ‘smart lighting’ that only works when the sensor indicates someone is walking in the room which will reduce the energy consumption. If you want to know more about SIG’s eco21 program, feel free to check the website : éco21.webloc

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This slogan can be found on the SIG website, translates into :”Your extra kilo(watts) can bring you a lot”. This play on words is an advertisement to grab customers’ attention and encourage them to save extra electricity in order to save extra francs on their bills as well…

In the discussion we had at SIG, we were once again facing one of the main issues that had been mentioned throughout this course : How do we measure progress, and in this case, electricity savings ?

Eco 21 has a partnership with the University of Geneva ; the collaboration aims to develop new methods and models to assess the impact of the savings in terms of energy. This allows us to connect SIG’s action with another SDG : goal 17 concerning partnership for the goals. (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/globalpartnerships/)

As it may come as a surprise that an energy supply company has launched an energy efficiency program, it is important to mention the ambiguity of the status of SIG which is midway between public and private. Indeed, the status of SIG is hard to define as it is a company but the owners are people from the government ; SIG tries to earn money but also helps the consumers spend less money which can seem quite paradoxical. The company makes profit because it has the monopoly of grid management which takes into account the people as well as the production and allows a win-win situation. Unlike a private company, SIG has no willingness of maximising profit by selling more electricity ; its goal is to serve society by providing the right amount of electricity and respecting sustainable development goals as well as the cantonal policy.

Therefore, in my opinion, SIG’s action can be connected to SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy

We also discussed the idea of efficiency, which can be defined as minimising the loss of energy and “having the energy inside and managing to keep it close”. Isolating a building is a great example of energy efficiency as the energy is being kept inside, within the building as long as possible.

How can you decrease your energy consumption as a consumer ?

  • On a human scale, the questions you have to ask youself is : “do I really need this ?”, which brings up the idea of sufficiency. Let’s take an example ; if you want to go to Paris for a leisure week-end, you should assess whether or not it is worth the emission if you take the plane. If you want to take the car, car sharing is a very useful system for instance because decreasing energy consumption is also about making rational decisions in regard with efficiency.
  • The utility level is all about having an innovative market producing efficient products and using traditional utilities to boost change in consumer behaviour. For example, SIG works with Migros (one of the main retailers in Switzerland). Through the eco21 plan, they have an agreement : Migros sells LED lamps for the same price as normal lamps to encourage consumers to buy these. This initiative has been allowed by the fact that SIG is giving money to Migros to counterbalance the profit loss due to the decrease of the price of LED lamps.
  • At the national level, action can be taken through the educational system as well as transportation systems. Geneva is an excellent example with its transportation system that encourages citizens to take public transports rather than their cars. Another important aspect is the legislation which enables people to reach goals by placing challenges. For instance, in 15 years, no more fuel cars will run in Norway.

CASE STUDY: GENILAC

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After this presentation of SIG, the sun was shining bright as we were heading to our next destination, which was located by the lake. We just had to put our helmets on, and off we were to visit the Genilac project that has come to life thanks to the collaboration of SIG!

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Lake Geneva is able to provide 25% of the energy needed in Geneva; therefore hydropower is Switzerland’s most important domestic source of renewable energy. Once again, innovation and making the best of the local natural resources of energy is key. The presence of the lake in Geneva is a huge asset for the city.

Genilac is a very efficient project, which uses the water of lake Leman as an innovative thermal system to provide air conditioning in buildings such as UN buildings.

To avoid the pumping of natural species, the water from the lake is transferred into a pool, from which the water is pumped and begins its journey through a 6km long hydraulic system. To avoid waste, when the water returns, it is used for irrigation in parks such as Geneva’s Botanical Garden.

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This project has been a success in terms of efficiency; the buildings using this thermal system have saved almost 80% of energy and have reduced their carbon dioxide emission. The system should be able to expand to other buildings in the city including residential buildings by 2017…

I think this morning was very informative and I particularly liked the transition from the theoretical presentation of SIG to the site visit of Geneva Lake Nations, which allowed us to witness the concrete action that is being done and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

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