Task 4.2: Global observatory of electricity resources

Research partners: Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Institute for Geophysics (IfG) at ETHZ

Research objectives
The global observatory (GO) aims to provide a comprehensive analytical framework for technology characterization and trend identification that can be applied in a consistent manner across a broad portfolio of current and future technologies. While the SCCER-SoE is focused on geo-energy and hydropower, the GO has a much broader coverage, including new renewables (e.g. solar photovoltaic, solar-thermal, wind onshore and offshore, biomass, geothermal, wave and tidal), fossil energy carriers (with and without carbon capture and storage (CCS)), nuclear energy and consideration of co-generation.

The GO is very well embedded into the SCCER landscape as well as the project portfolio of the Technology Assessment and Energy Economics group in the Laboratory for Energy Systems Analysis (LEA) at PSI (see Figure below). PSI-LEA directly participates three SCCERS – namely SoE, Mobility, and Heat & Electricity Storage (HaE) – and has also established connections and exchanges with the SCCERs CREST, BIOSWEET, and FURIES. Within the SCCER-SoE, other tasks mainly provide inputs to technology characterization and potential discussions, but for the final deliverable report both an SCCER-internal and external review are envisaged.

The schematic figure below also shows that the evaluation of specific technologies can strongly benefit from a broad variety of projects at national, European and global scales. For example, at the national level, PSI-LEA has been commissioned by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) to conduct the new assessment of the potentials, costs and environmental performance of a wide spectrum of electricity supply technologies with time horizon until year 2050. As there are obvious synergies with the GO, it has been agreed that PSI-LEA should produce a joint final report for the SFOE and SCCER-SoE. The report will serve the purpose of technology monitoring and will be an input to the next Energy Perspectives of the SFOE.

Other relevant Swiss projects receive funding from the National Research Program NRP 70 “Energy Turnaround”, the Competence Center Energy and Mobility (CCEM), the Competence Center Environment and Sustainability (CCES), the Center for Technology Assessment (TA-SWISS), swisselectric research (SER), the Erdöl-Vereinigung (EV), swissnuclear, the PSEL research fund of the Association of Swiss Electricity Producers (VSE), ESI / swissgrid, and the “Energy – Economy – Society” (EES) research programme of the SFOE.

At the European level, there are two ongoing projects on fuel cells within the “Fuel Cells and Hyrogen Joint Undertaking” (FCH JU) under FP7, and two proposals relevant for the GO have been submitted within the EU Horizon 2020 Framework.

At the global level, the established collaboration between PSI and the World Energy Council (WEC) on energy economic modeling provides an essential contribution to scenario analysis activities.

The spatial scale of the GO stretches from Switzerland to European and global coverage because on the one hand some technologies may constitute potential import options for the future Swiss electricity mix, and on the other hand specific stages of electricity generation options may be in various countries and / or regions. The primary aim of monitoring technology characterization and development is to identify and foresee key future long-term trends at an early stage, which then can provide essential inputs to many SCCER activities. Furthermore, a detailed technology characterization forms the basis for a holistic sustainability assessment of electricity generation options.

The key challenge is to evaluate the current status and innovation potential of emerging and future highly advanced technologies with regard to their costs, environmental, and social performance aspects, resource potentials, and possible future deployment scenarios. In order to provide a concise overview to support innovation development and support decision-making processes by policy makers and other stakeholders, trends in selected indicators will be explored, selected major published scenario studies will be reviewed and compared with regard to roles of specific technologies and driving factors, and white papers and policy briefs on specific technologies will be produced.

In the short term (until the end of 2016), the main goal is twofold, namely to develop a framework that allows the establishment of a trend-based and partially quantitative comparative perspective on the prospective developments of electricity technologies, but also to establish a common format of a status report that is published in regular intervals.

Current projects

The analysis covers complete energy chains (in the spirit of Life Cycle Assessment) of technologies for Swiss electricity supply until 2050 (and is thus highly relevant for the Swiss Energy Perspectives 2050). Domestic options for power generation to be analyzed are small and large hydro power, wind power, photovoltaics, biomass, geothermal power, natural gas plants, and fuel cells. Offshore wind, wave, and tidal as well as solar-thermal, nuclear, and coal power are addressed with view to potential electricity imports. A first interim report has been submitted to the SFOE in May, 2015. A much more complete second interim report will be submitted to the SFOE in December / January 2015. The final joint SFOE and SCCER-SoE report with contributions from the SCCER BIOSWEET will be completed by June, 2016.

Duration: January 2015 to June 2016

The two EC FP7 FCH-JU (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking) projects ALKAMMONIA & POWER UP provide relevant inputs for the fuel cell chapter of the GO. In addition to an overview of fuel cell systems, both projects include an extensive comparison with relevant alternative options.

Duration: June 2013 to May 2016

Project website

The two EC FP7 FCH-JU (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking) projects POWER UP and ALKAMMONIA provide relevant inputs for the fuel cell chapter of the GO. In addition to an overview of fuel cell systems, both projects include an extensive comparison with relevant alternative options.

Duration: April 2013 to June 2017

Project website

The two projects Geotherm & TA-Swiss DGE provide state-of-the-art information for the geothermal chapter, although within the GO the analyzed geothermal cases are partially adapted to reflect the specific needs of the SCCER-SoE.

Duration: May 2013 to April 2016

This project is closely related to the SCCER HaE, but also relevant for the GO because it provides a sustainability assessment for a complementary storage option to hydropower.

Duration: December 2014 to November 2018

This joint project aims to substitute electricity and fossil fuels used for cooling and heating of buildings in Switzerland with low-grade waste heat from industrial processes and thermal energy from cogeneration, renewables and traditional fuels. Therefore, it is relevant for co-generation options addressed in the GO.

Duration: December 2014 to November 2017

While accident risks are not explicitly treated in the GO, PSI-LEA investigates this aspect primarily for hydropower and to a lesser extent for other technologies within this NRP 70 project.

Duration: December 2014 to November 2017

This project provides relevant inputs for the biomass chapter, but in addition there is also a strong connection to the SCCER BIOSWEET.

Duration: May 2013 to April 2016

Project website

The project studies the impacts of adding distributed stochastic generation to the Swiss electricity system. It is divided in two phases. The first phase focuses on evaluating the impact of renewable energy systems (mainly photovoltaic generation) at the distribution voltage level, while the second phase extends the study to the Swiss national scale and thus also considers higher voltage levels of the transmission grid, along with a wider range of RES and additional storage options. PSI’s Technology Assessment group is involved in a number of SCCER-SoE work packages and tasks, namely

  • definition of objectives, indicators and scenarios,
  • technology assessment including Life Cycle Assessment,
  • assessment of alternative RES integration strategies, and
  • energy system modeling. Overall, the results of this project are relevant for several chapters in the GO report.

Duration: January 2014 to December 2016

Project website


Within the Energy – Economy - Society (EES) research program of the SFOE, the Energy Economics Group at PSI in collaboration with the University of Zurich investigates the investment and market behavior of power utilities. For the methodology, we use multilevel equilibrium market models of Nash-Cournot type. The first level is the investment of the players, the second level is the market-exchange of electricity. Investigated issues comprise: market power, investment risk, risk-averse decision-making, and transmission constraints. The modeling is intended to be with real-world data; we consider the potential of large companies or of countries in Europe to exert market power. The market clearing is limited by transmission constraints, and players face different investment risks, such as regulatory uncertainty and stochastic fuel prices. The analysis may allow regulators to better design investment and market rules to ensure acceptable electricity prices for consumers.

Duration: October 2014 to October 2017

Project Website

The SwissHydro research program investigates three different aspects of the prospect of hydropower in Switzerland:

  • system integration,
  • future electricity market prices in Europe, and
  • optimal dispatch with decision-making under uncertainty.

The first aspect considers the optimal integration of hydropower into the future Swiss energy system, in which the flexibility of hydropower and its near-zero carbon emissions can contribute to system stability and to a low carbon economy. A special focus is the hourly flexible storage capacity for intermittent renewables, and the synergy with the heat sector. For this part, we use a long-term energy-system model, which extends the Swiss TIMES energy system model (STEM). Apart from such system aspects, the profitability of hydropower plants depends on the future electricity prices on the integrated European markets. Hence, in the second part of the project, we use a Nash-Cournot equilibrium model to investigate the market behavior of players under different future investment decisions and energy policy scenarios. This model yields (aggregated) electricity prices. In the third part of the project, we investigate the profitability of an optimal dispatch of hydropower against exogenous stochastic prices and stochastic natural water inflow; the price levels are given by the previous market model. In particular, we investigate pumped-hydropower. We use multistage stochastic programming on a scenario tree, and we assume risk-averse decision making.

Duration: 2015 to 2017

Project Website

This project aims to assess the impact of policies supporting hydropower and other renewable energies (RES) in Switzerland considering the changes in the neighboring energy markets. Therefore, the price effect of changes in the market design and support schemes of neighboring countries will be analyzed. Based on this, the profitability of hydropower and the value of RES will be analyzed to determine the required support for these technologies. This work is a collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Duration: 2015 to 2018

Past projects

The two projects TA-Swiss DGE & Geotherm provide state-of-the-art information for the geothermal chapter, although within the GO the analyzed geothermal cases are partially adapted to reflect the specific needs of the SCCER-SoE.

Duration: March 2013 to June 2014

Project website

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of nuclear power in state-of-the-art LCA needs to be provided from both current, but also future perspective, considering the long time-horizon of potential operation of reactors in Switzerland. The main objective of this project is the update and extension of LCA data of nuclear power generation in Switzerland, and thus providing inputs for the respective chapter in the GO report.

Duration: January 2014 to December 2015

Project website

This project is relevant for the project “RISK-GOV: DGE & HYDRO” in terms of methodological developments, and thus feeds indirectly into the GO through NRP 70 and associated activities in Task 4.1

Duration: September 2013 to October 2014

Project website

The project aims to transfer the coherent energy scenarios (“Jazz” and “Symphony”) of the global energy system until 2050 to the example of New Zealand. This project is executed in collaboration and funded by the New Zealand branch of the World Energy Council (WEC). PSI is the main energy scenario modelling partner of WEC. The global scenarios (15 world regions) provide boundary conditions for national or European long-term energy scenarios, where the sub-scenarios of the electricity sector have a pivotal role for the energy system.

Duration: September 2014 to August 2015

Project website

Figure: project interaction chart for the Global Observatory (GO) of Task 4.2, demonstrating its high degree of integration both within the SCCER landscape as well as with the PSI-LEA project portfolio. For abbreviations see texts above.