Learning from the big neighbour
The results suggest that while Swiss energy cooperatives are able to provide impetus for the decentralised development of renewable energies, they have not exploited their full potential to date. So what needs to be done for cooperatives to grow? The researchers cite the situation in Germany, where relevant data has been available for some time. The big neighbour to the north is seen as an Eldorado for energy cooperatives. They are on average much bigger than their Swiss counterparts. Researchers see the main reason for this in their unrestricted access to subsidised feed-in tariffs, which was the case until recently. This security means German cooperatives also have no difficulty selling their electricity on the fully liberalised German market. Another of the German energy cooperatives’ success factors is their stronger networking. Regional networks improve the exchange of know-how and facilitate political lobby work.
Comparison with Germany underscores the importance of sales markets for the development potential of Swiss energy cooperatives. According to the researchers, greater political support is needed for electricity produced by cooperatives to be marketable. In addition to feed-in tariffs, they cite more generous rules for private consumption and a general increase in energy prices through steering levies on fossil fuels as possible approaches. If renewable electricity production becomes more attractive for cooperatives, they should be expected to continue promoting the decentralised expansion of renewable energy. To date, energy cooperatives account for only 1 to 1.5 % of solar power production – a figure similar to that in Germany.
The researchers stress, however, that the significance of cooperatives should not be measured solely in terms of the volume of electricity generated. This is because cooperatives generate not just energy, but also understanding and acceptance for the energy transition.