Energy cooperatives: renewable energy thanks to strong local roots

Das Bild zeigt mehrere Hände, die einen Kreis bilden, durch den die Sonne scheint.

There have been energy cooperatives for more than 120 years – but there is hardly any data available on structures and perspectives. WSL-researchers collected this data in a survey.

The expansion of renewable energy mandated by the Energy Act will decentralise power and heat generation in Switzerland even further. Impetus for this process can be provided by regionally and locally based energy cooperatives. This was the finding of a survey conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) as part of the NRP 71 project “Collective financing of renewable energy”.

The researchers contacted all 289 energy cooperatives identified in the commercial register in order to obtain information on their organisation, activities in the areas of electricity and heat generation, finances, framework conditions and future prospects.

Numerous new energy cooperatives

A total of 136 energy cooperatives (47%) responded to the survey, around half of which are located in the cantons of Aargau, Bern and Zurich. Most of the responding energy cooperatives generate electricity with their own photovoltaic facilities: 93% operate such facilities and 66% want to expand them in the next five years. Of the cooperatives that generate heat, 75% use woody biomass. Notably, the approximately 150 cooperatives that formed in the 1990s and after 2011 (Federal Council decision on the energy transition) almost exclusively use renewable energy sources.

Despite their strengths, cooperatives are not optimistic about the future

Most Swiss energy cooperatives are economically sound, but have limited potential for growth and development. When asked which factors inhibit their future development, they most frequently mention lower government subsidies (compared to Germany) and insufficient market outlets for the energy generated. In view of this, around 60% of the responding cooperatives rate their growth potential as "small", and 27% as "moderate". Nevertheless, most of them hope to achieve moderate growth on a number of fronts, particularly power generation capacity, customer base and business turnover.

"On the whole, the survey shows that cooperatives could play a pioneering role in promoting renewable energy – with a broad funding base and widespread public acceptance," says project manager Irmi Seidl.