A summary of the first NRP 66 summer school

The energy question was central to the first NRP 66 summer school, held on 2 and 3 September 2013: How can wood resources contribute towards a successful change to energy policy in Switzerland? The participants were able to familiarise themselves with national and international energy challenges, and to actively tackle the political, economic, environmental and technical issues using role plays.

NRP 66 brings together over 110 researchers working on 30 different projects, representing not less than 25 different nationalities! An event such as the summer school makes it possible to strengthen the contacts and the network of the involved researchers, but also to expand the field of knowledge and competence of the participants. A summary of the subjects dealt with on the first day, devoted to the energy challenge, is provided below.

Energy issues at international, national and local level

Walter Steinmann, Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE), clearly showed the energy challenges for Switzerland in the context of the current national debate on the energy strategy 2050. The strategy foresees an increase in the share of renewable energies by almost 24.2 TWh by 2050, provided the latter obtains the status "of national interest". This would ensure that they do not come into conflict with other protection objectives, such as environmental or landscape protection. A bill is currently being drawn up. The share of wood biomass amounts to 1.2 TWh. According to the expected scenario, this volume corresponds to the energy produced in the form of heat by wood burning facilities (cogeneration systems). The contribution made by wood resources is therefore still marginal in the SFOE scenarios. Research into alternative technologies for the conversion and utilisation of wood resources, either to produce electricity or biofuel, must therefore continue in Switzerland and technical innovations will have to prove their value in pilot facilities. Several competence centres are planned, particularly for biomass. Another major issue will be to adapt the electricity and heat distribution network in future decades in Switzerland, particularly as the number of sources of power production at local level multiplies.

Political, environmental, technical and economic perspectives

Eric Nussbaumer, a member of the Swiss National Council, has shown that chances of persuading the political decision-makers to promote wood resources are slim. The increase in the CO2 tax, for example, is difficult to defend politically; he therefore considers that the best current political measure to support wood is to reinforce the energy standards of buildings, particularly by means of a national renovation programme. At the environmental level, Katharina Serafimova (WWF) has pointed out the importance of establishing sustainable investment criteria, taking into account both environmental and social risks, if we wish to invest in renewable resources such as wood in the future, for example. A guide to sustainable ("responsible") investments can be downloaded from the WWF website. For an energy production and distribution enterprise such as Forces Motrices Bernoises, the share of renewable energies in its portfolio is only 3 percent and the development of wood burning plants is not a priority at the moment. According to Markus A. Meier, director of Products and Services, the cost/benefit ratio is not favourable and the risks connected with the investments are still too high. Finally, Serge Biollaz (Paul Scherrer Institute) presented the current situation and issues, as far as research is concerned. The development of new technologies for wood utilisation as a resource for energy production takes time (on average 10 years) and substantial amounts of capital (between one hundred million and one billion Swiss francs, depending on the technology selected). The risks are no longer technical, but rather represent questions of market and price of raw materials. Serge Biollaz pleaded for the extensive involvement of all parties in the wood supply chain, in order to ensure greater success on the market for new technologies.

The consequences for the future use of wood in Switzerland

The presentation by Hansruedi Streiff (Association "Industrie du bois Suisse") explained the paradox found in the forestry economy in Switzerland: the fulfilment of the forest functions (leisure, protection, biodiversity, etc.) requires the promotion of hardwood, while market demand is essentially for conifers. Promotion of species of hardwood in Switzerland, such as the beech, must therefore be intensified, and their possible use in innovative materials and in building must be demonstrated. David Renggli, project manager at Renggli Ltd, demonstrated that it was possible to innovate in Switzerland, with an engineering system for the construction of prefabricated timber units. Within the framework of the debate it has been clearly shown that, if wood such as beech were available in Switzerland, the demand for an entirely "Swiss Made" house would be there.

Role play with all participants

In the end, all the participants were able to actively address the political, economic, environmental and technical issues by means of role play: they had to select a role (politician or representative of an NGO, forestry economy circles, authorities or research), prepare a rationale within the group and simulate a podium discussion.


The expectations placed on NRP 66 are therefore high: the decision-makers, manufacturers and professional organisations of the timber industry are expecting the research programme to indicate new ways of using wood resources and to provide aids to decision-making, both for investors and for local policymakers. This subject will be incorporated into the summary report with recommendations for the stakeholders, but NRP 66 aims to anticipate the discussion by immediately setting up a forum dedicated to the subject of "bio-refinery" in Switzerland. A second summer school is already planned for 2014.