Energy in the Alps


Energy Demand in the Alpine Arc

The energy protocol of the Alpine Convention sets ambitious targets to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources in the Alps. Member countries of the convention pledge, in that protocol, to harmonize energy planning, implement measures to reduce energy consumption, and promote environmentally-friendly, decentralized renewable energy provision.

The demand for energy of the growing and increasingly wealthy population of the Alpine region is steadily rising, as for example in the Canton Ticino in Switzerland. (Source: L.ULRICH)
Nevertheless, the growing and increasingly wealthy population of the Alpine region and its surroundings inhabits a growing cubature of buildings that are heated, lighted and filled with a plethora of energy-hungry electric appliances. Ever more cars and trucks drive through the Alps on ever longer and broader roads, over bridges and through tunnels, consuming more and more fuels in this process. High-voltage power lines as well as oil and gas pipelines transport growing amounts of electricity and fossil fuels across and into the Alps and supply industries, service sectors and private consumers with high-quality industrial energy, thus meeting a growing demand for energy in the Alpine arc.

The scarce available databases suggest that increasing transport volumes are the strongest driver behind the growing energy demand, followed by the growth in economic output and household consumption. Population growth (+12% from 1971 to 1997) also contributes to that trend. Apart from a few low-quality coal fields, almost no fossil fuel deposits are located in the Alps, implying that almost all of the fossil fuels consumed there have to be imported (CIPRA 2001).

While some of the environmental issues related to fossil energy use have been addressed, e.g. through desulphurization of power plants, industrial installations and liquid fuels, others remain: The rising dependence on exhaustible fossil fuels contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CH4 (methane) that drive global warming. As no comprehensive statistics on energy use in the Alps are available, it is difficult to judge progress towards stated policy goals related to energy conservation. Available country-level data (referring to the much larger area covered by Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia) suggest, however, that none of the Alpine countries has so far succeeded in halting, let alone reducing the ever-growing energy hunger of the Alpine region.

Vigorous measures would have to be implemented in order to succeed, including a socio-ecological tax reform that would shift a significant share of the tax burden from labour to resource consumption, combined with a reorientation of infrastructure policy in an energy- and transport-saving direction. For example, spatial planning of settlement and production areas would have to be reoriented to reduce commuting distances. Less transport-intensive production patterns would have to be encouraged and made financially attractive. In addition, current efforts to promote efficient and renewable technologies at present the only policy area where significant activities are visible would have to be considerably expanded. Only if combined with fiscal and infrastructure policies could technological measures such as improvements in the insulation of houses, efficient light bulbs, energy-efficient household appliances and vehicles and so forth be implemented at a sufficient scale to significantly reduce the energy demand.

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Further Readings & Links

Alpine Convention (1998)
The protocol of the Alpine convention concerning energy policy in the Alps.