42: Nuclear Nixed

Switzerland already uses solar power the old-fashioned way – with clotheslines. This rooftop clothesline is in the city core.

Switzerland derives 40 per cent of its electric power from six nuclear reactors* – all of which are slated for shutdown by 2030 as decided in a recent plebiscite. That gives the Swiss 18 years to figure out where to make up that considerable energy shortfall, and so they are looking into amping up their hydro-electric options.

A Swiss neighbourhood of row houses has multiple dedicated spaces for communal clotheslines. As a fan of sun-dried linens, I love this.

We tend to think of the frugal Swiss as energy-efficient what with their affection for public transport, train travel and these confounded greyish lightbulbs, but they’re not. On a global scale, they are 21st out of 217 countries in electricity consumption on a per capita basis. Canada is #4. Yes, we beat the Swiss in the hockey world championships this year and now they must deal with this added humiliation.

Before environmentalists jump on Canada for this, the reference point is for electrical consumption only, and that Canada is such a high consumer is related to its world-class hydro-electric infrastructure. Energy consumption correlates to national development, stability, industrialization and affluence, with the world’s saddest nations consuming the least power. I am waiting for David Suzuki to stand up and applaud Somalia for its “green” economy.

In the meantime, expect the Swiss to come up with something inventive to cope with their energy diet. They know how to make the most out of very little. They turned a landlocked, mountainous scrap of land into a world economic leader by selling things that can fit in your pocket: Drugs, watches and chocolate. ***

* Swiss media sources sometimes report the number of reactors at seven. The European Nuclear Society reports only five.

** Pharmaceuticals, not illegal drugs. This isn’t Mexico.

*** There is more to it than these three, of course. There’s also Swiss banking, cheese, ski resorts and the Red Cross. For such a small place, this country has a huge cultural footprint.

Big city lights

Light's appear to float above a Zürich old-town lane. The lights are hung pendant-style on lines that dangle from cables strung between buildings on either side of the street. They look like giant fireflies when they move in the breeze.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, Zürich’s Christmas lights have been clutched in controversy. It began when the Swiss, forward-thinking people that they are, decided their light display gobbled down too many watts, and so they put themselves on an electric diet, replacing the incandescent light bulbs with LED.

That led to a dismal showing the following year when the Christmas lights did not so much shine as that they glowed like dying embers. The city was cast into shame. This year, the city promised a return to glory with even better LED lights.

Depending on who you believe, LED lights consume about 1/10th the energy of their incandescent cousins, but only if you only use 1/10th the lights. I don’t know the math on the number of LEDs now strung along Zürich’s beautiful streets, but my guess is that the numbers and therefore, the power consumption has gone up. I can’t wait for the day that Zürich puts up ten times the LEDs it did in its inaugural LED year, thus nullifying their ‘progress.’

For reasons not known by me, LED lights also do not photograph well.

A posh outdoor cafe in Zurich.

There is some discussion among film professionals about images photographed in LED light as being flat and lacking texture. I don’t know about that, but a glance at my photos from our tour of Zürich suggest this is true.

At home, I am an LED nut, using these lights to add a lovely glow to my Christmas lighting decor, but the truth is, there are a lot more light strings running through my yard than there used to be, making me wonder if LED is the aspartame of the electric world. It’s meant to help us reduce kilowatts/calories, but in the end, we just consume more, but without the guilty conscience.

LED aficionados also praise LED lights for their longevity, claiming they last eight to 10 times longer than incandescents. I’m sorry to report that this has not been my experience. I have already had to replace LED light strings that were only five years old. This does not beat out my old incandescent twinkle-lights’ lifespan.

Nevertheless, Zürich’s display did look lovely, although a little dim. It will appear dimmer still in these photos, and that’s too bad.