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Swiss energy research given timely boost

Scientists are searching for alternative sources of energy

(Keystone)

The complex problem of fuelling Switzerland's growing energy demands has been given a helping hand by the creation of a new Energy Science Centre (ESC).

The hub which opens on Wednesday at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich is aimed at improving coordination, securing funds and liaising with governments and industry.

The Federal Institute already runs a number of energy research projects, including electrical energy distribution, hydropower, energy efficiency, alternatives to traditional transportation and geothermal power sources.

But the need to drive the current research programme forward has never been greater, according to Swedish-born Göran Andersson, who is on the ESC executive board and works as professor at the Power Systems Group of the Federal Institute.

"The dwindling supplies of oil and gas and controversies surrounding nuclear power are well documented," he told swissinfo.

"We must look at other sources of power that do not create harmful emissions. This big problem must be solved and solved quickly because it takes time to plan and build new systems."

Coordination

The ESC will draw together different strands of energy research under one roof.

Andersson said a lot of smaller projects were underway at the Federal Institute, but not enough was done to combine the work of different departments.

"For example, researchers in the chemical engineering department are looking into alternatives to petrol-powered transport.

"[At the same time] our mechanical engineers are working on methods of generating electricity, and the power systems laboratory is asking how to better distribute electricity.

"We need to collaborate our efforts before we can draw up a complete model of how to improve the country's electricity system."

The opening of the new centre comes as parliament debates a new law designed to liberalise the country's electricity market and give consumers the right to choose their supplier.

Funding

A more coordinated and systematic approach to energy research will allow the Federal Institute to tackle bigger projects and attract more funding from government organisations and industry.

"If we want to join European Union projects, for example, we must present ourselves as a coordinated body. We will stand no chance as small, independent departments," Andersson said.

He is hopeful that the new centre will make energy research at the Federal Institute more visible to the public and feels encouraged by initial feedback.

"The indications from the Swiss government and other agencies have been positive to what we are doing here."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

The Energy Science Centre will be led by Professor Claudia Casciaro, who previously worked for the power company, Alstom.
The Federal Institute has 30 professors and 200 researchers in its energy research department.
The idea for the Energy Science Centre was approved at the beginning of the year.

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