Let’s focus our energy on consuming less of it

Dear members of the EPFL community,

Europe’s energy supply is at risk for a number of reasons, including geopolitical ones. And this could result in shortages in Switzerland. It was with this in mind that the Swiss Federal Council proactively decided that Switzerland should target a voluntary 15% reduction in its natural gas use and take steps to decrease its electricity consumption [more information in french, german and italian]. The immediate concern is ensuring we have enough energy for the coming winter. The Federal Council has also has various plans in place, some of which came from OSTRAL, the crisis-management organization for the Swiss power sector.

If there is an energy shortage in Switzerland this winter, our absolute priority at EPFL will be to keep our teaching and research facilities going. However, the Swiss government may impose power cuts as part of the OSTRAL plans. The EPFL Direction has set up an operational management committee tasked with developing both preliminary recommendations on how to reduce our School’s energy use and action plans that would enable us to continue carrying out our core activities even if there is a major shortage.

The committee will keep you up to date on how the situation develops, on the risks to our School, and on any technical or operational recommendations or measures that the EPFL Direction adopts. We’re currently setting up a website where you can find information about this and about the committee’s role and members (you’ll soon receive an email with the link). We must be prepared to react quickly if the Federal Council introduces binding measures. For more information, please refer to the Swiss government’s new website with tips on how to save energy (french only).

This potential energy shortage also gives us a chance to highlight some good news. Today our campus uses no fuel oil and just 6% of its energy comes from natural gas – meaning we’re less dependent and face a lower risk in this regard. Thanks to a pioneering approach adopted at the end of the 1970s in the wake of the oil crisis, the School built its first thermal plant to cool the campus. The campus’ current plant, with its cooling and heating capacity, is part of a system that includes a pumping station for drawing water from Lake Geneva, heat pumps and solar panels, while also making use of the excess heat generated by a connected data center. This plant meets 54% of our total energy needs, while the remaining 40% comes from electricity.

As we saw just above, crises present opportunities to innovate. The EPFL Direction recently greenlighted a new initiative, Solutions4Sustainability, aimed at accelerating the transfer of technology developed in our labs, with our campus serving as demonstration site. We want to put some of our researchers’ discoveries to work, in close conjunction with our operations staff, in an effort to reduce our energy dependence and carbon footprint. An initial announcement about the Solutions4Sustainability initiative was made at our Research and Education Days (JSP), and a call for projects is currently in the works.

Thank you for your cooperation, and best wishes for the start of the school year!

Matthias Gäumann & Jan S. Hesthaven
Co-chairmen of the committee