Switzerland and Massachusetts: CleanTech’s Dynamic Duo Preps For Energy Transformation

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Switzerland and the US state of Massachusetts teamed up last summer for a little thing called US-Swiss Energy Innovation Days in Boston, aimed at strengthening the convergence of policy, business and technology. Due to popular demand the event is back for Round 2 this week, and it promises to open a window into some of today’s most exciting cutting-edge clean technology.

They’re calling the 2015 iteration Swiss-US Innovation Days because Switzerland is hosting the event this time. CleanTechnica was invited to attend and give you the inside look at some of the featured clean-tech, so before we go any farther let’s thank Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, which has sponsored the trip through its Presence Switzerland branch, and the swissnex network.

NEST Switzerland energy hub

The Switzerland-Massachusetts Connection

Given the long history of the technology and engineering sectors in both Switzerland and Massachusetts, the basic reason for the hookup is pretty clear: A clean-tech revolution — including energy efficiency and storage as well as renewables — means big bucks for economies that are poised to take advantage of the trend. The urgency to accelerate the clean energy transformation is particularly acute for Switzerland, which back in 2011 voted to give nuclear power the old heave-ho by 2034. That’s a pretty tall order considering that the last time we checked, Switzerland had five nuclear power plants cranking out a good chunk of the country’s electricity.

Massachusetts is coming from a slightly different perspective. Back in 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaborated on “the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary study ever conducted on the future of nuclear energy,” and concluded that “the nuclear option should be retained precisely because it is an important carbon-free source of power.” However, in the 10+ years since then, Japan’s Fukushima disaster has dampened the enthusiasm for a nuclear solution in the US, and the cost of renewable energy has been sinking like a stone. That goes for wind as well as solar, and as a state on the Atlantic coast, Massachusetts can tap into the region’s rich store of offshore wind energy (the ill-fated Cape Wind project appears to be caput, but others are taking its place).

Fossil fuels still dominate the electricity supply for Massachusetts at 67.7% for natural gas and 11.4% for coal, while the state has just one nuclear power plant, which accounts for only 13.3% of its electricity.

Renewables and hydro are already catching up at 7.1%, so if you add the offshore wind potential you’re really getting places.

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Sneak Preview of Swiss-US Energy Innovation Days

We’ll be tooling around Switzerland for the next few days visiting various clean-tech sites, so here’s a preview of some of the technology featured at Swiss-US Energy Innovation Days later this week, August 19-21.

One of our first stops will be EPFL, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. We’re hoping to get a chance to catch up on a solar powered hydrogen fuel project that crossed our radar back in  2013, and the program calls for us to check out the driverless minibus running around campus as part of the school’s CityMobil2 automated transport research project.

New just this spring is the GPS based “click-to-ride” BestMile app for the bus (more specifically, Ligier EZ-10 shuttles) — apparently this is just as easy as getting an elevator to come to your floor, so we’ll see.

driverless minibus Switzerland

HESS AG is also on our list of go-sees. Here’s a rundown on one of the company’s ongoing projects:

ETH Zurich and bus manufacturer Carrosserie Hess AG have been cooperating on a diesel hybrid city bus. Researchers at ETH Zurich developed a smart controller for the system which analyzes and learns the bus’ route and optimally uses available diesel and el ectric power. The controller analyzes elevation profiles and distances between stops to make its decisions.

Next up is the University of Applied Sciences & Arts Luzern, where we’ll get a look at the building efficiency and intelligence research center iHomeLab.

In the startup sector, we’ll get the inside scoop from the thermoelectric specialists greenTEG, which has been deploying technology developed at ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

We’ll also be checking out the new CloudCities software from to SmarterBetterCities. Billed as a “3D YouTube For Your Smart City,” CloudCities is an intuitive urban modelling program that includes community engagement and other data sharing features.

cities Switzerland energy

No trip to Switzerland would be complete without a trip to EMPA Dübendorf, home of the NEST green building research facility:

In NEST, international research teams from universities and colleges meet architectural firms and innovative firms in the construction industry together to create living concepts for the future, build their research module into NEST and evaluate the results together. NEST = Next Evolution in Sustainable Building Technologies.

Actually, no trip to Switzerland would be complete without a stop at the IBM Rüschlikon Research Lab, so we’ll be stopping off there, too.

There’s a lot more — for example the THRIVE waste heat recovery initiative — and we also might have some super-insidery information that we’re picking up on the way, but we’ll get to all those topics one at at time over the course of this week.

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Image credits, top: NEST  via Empa / Gramazio & Kohler; middle: BestMile via appstore; bottom CloudCities via SmarterBetterCities.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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