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Swiss Solar prize rewards green-thinkers

Solar power received a boost at this year's prize giving. Keystone / Sandro Campardo

The Swiss Solar prize has been awarded for the tenth time, in the presence of President Adolf Ogi. Prizes were given in eight categories, including for innovative architects, builders, businesses and local authorities.

This content was published on August 31, 2000 - 18:42

Ogi himself received one of the awards for his "exemplary contribution" to the creation of the prize in 1991 and to the government's "Energy 2000" energy reduction programme.

The awards were handed over in Flums in canton St Gallen, at the premises of the Flumroc company. The firm won the prize in the business category for building a new factory that produces more energy with solar power than it uses.

Among the other success stories that received prizes was a wood-based heat-generating network, which will supply about 100 buildings by the end of 2001. Solar 91, the association that awards the prizes, praised the scheme for helping to save two million litres of heating oil per year.

The commune of Faido in canton Ticino was rewarded for demonstrating how public buildings can be heated using renewable energy sources. The architects prize was won by Aarplan in Berne, for slashing the energy consumption in an old building they renovated, while the Josias Gasser building materials company was rewarded for a new building which generates more energy than it consumes.

In a speech to mark the 10th anniversary of the prize, the Swiss president urged the people to vote in favour of a new tax on energy. Two proposals for a new levy are being put to a nationwide vote on September 24, the proceeds of which would be used to promote alternative forms of energy or to support the country's social security system.

However he reiterated the opposition of the government and parliament to a third measure, a "solar initiative", on the grounds that the proposed tax is too high and the time period for which it would be levied too long.

For its part, Solar 91 supports the initiative. Gallus Cadenou, one of the Solar prize project leaders, told swissinfo that "oil prices have soared while solar power can offer energy at a mere 10 per cent of the normal cost".

Although businesses and consumers have been reeling for the past year as oil prices have soared, Swiss business leaders have maintained that solar energy is still too expensive for commercial use.

However, Cadenou says solar-powered buildings are becoming increasingly common in Switzerland.

"Up till now we thought that solar power was best used in new buildings, however in our most innovative competition to date architects have also successfully managed to convert older buildings and install solar power, offering electricity at 90 per cent of the normal price," he said.

Critics say there is not enough sunshine in Switzerland for effective solar-powered electricity or heating, but proponents of solar power dismiss the argument.

"All your hot water and heating needs can be met by installing solar panels. Of course if you want solar-generated electricity, that involves installing solar cells, which is more expensive," explained Cadenou.

He believes the candidates for this year's Solar prize have shown that cheap, effective solar power can be harnessed in a viable fashion. The Swiss people will decide in three weeks' time whether more public money should be poured into solar power in the future.

by Tom O'Brien

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