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Industry must tackle rising energy costs


Swiss industry must innovate to reduce its reliance on rapidly increasing oil prices, a conference of the sector's umbrella body, Swissmem, heard on Thursday.

Oil prices this year have shot to well over $100 (SFr102.5) a barrel – and could reach $200 by the end of the year, according to some experts – placing a great strain on industrial output and contributing to rising inflation.

The challenge of spiralling energy costs was the theme of this year’s Industry Day hosted by the body that represents the machinery, electrical and metal industries in Switzerland.

Addressing the conference, Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard said the time was ripe to become more energy efficient and step up innovation in the field of alternative sources, such as sun and water power.

“With an open innovative climate we can, just like we became a pioneer country for water power technologies, reduce our oil dependence with research – or even substitute oil-based materials completely,” she said.

“Otherwise we will have a bigger problem tomorrow, or at the latest the day after tomorrow, because our western society, built on oil and steel, will suddenly lose its foundations.”

However, Leuthard added that there was no need to panic, despite petrol prices recently reaching SFr2 ($1.95) a litre for the first time.

“Whoever manages to develop new processes, methods and new machinery will open up a huge market. We have in Switzerland specialists with the right know-how and companies with the right technical ability.”

Fear mongering

Swissmem President Johann Schneider-Ammann said that science, business and politicians should combine to solve energy and associated climate problems.

“A competitive, safe and economical power supply is a crucial factor for the future – above all for industry,” he said.

He repeated earlier attacks on an emissions tax levied on some Swiss companies and urged politicians and the public not to lay the blame of climate change solely at the door of industry.

“Panic is not called for. Sensational, fear-mongering and unsafe populist theses and being intimidated into accepting government opinion without criticism, which has apparently got into the heads of people, must not dominate,” he said.

Swissmem unveiled an energy manifesto at the conference calling for ageing nuclear power stations to be replaced.

“We demand the rapid planning and short route to the substituting of existing nuclear power stations in Switzerland,” the document stated.

Referendum issue

Swiss electricity company Atel earlier this month applied for permission to build a new nuclear plant in Solothurn. Such a move, however, is almost certain to attract a public referendum.

The manifesto also echoed Schneider-Ammann’s criticism of the business climate tax.

“The Swiss workplace must not be weakened [by the tax], because it can contribute substantially to climate protection with its innovative strength and technological solutions,” it read.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Swissmem was founded in 1883 as a think-tank and lobby group for the Swiss machinery, electrical and metal industries. It also offers vocational training for its members.

The sectors it represents contributed some 19.3% of total GDP in Switzerland in 2007. Annual revenues for the sector total SFr97 billion.

Some 80% of this turnover comes from exports. The machinery, electrical and metal industries make up nearly 40% of all Swiss exports.

The industries employ some 339,000 people in Switzerland and a further 428,000 abroad.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR