Umwelt Arena: concrete solutions for the transition

Updated on 14·02·2018
Lola Salem, Damien Moulin


Visiting the Umwelt Arena during our field survey in 2017 was a special experience for us. Indeed, for the first time, we saw almost everything that we have heard about in our interviews, on the same place. This very well-furnished showroom shows visitors how it is possible to reduce their environmental footprint by simple gestures, small investments or bigger projects.

From electric cars to insulation to renewable energies and heat pumps, our guide, Mr. Jörg SIGRIST confirmed that the technology of the energy transition exist, that it is already competitive, and that it is only waiting to be democratized. Naturally, raising awareness of these solutions was one of the issues we discussed with him.

Watch our travelogue video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jSlk21di4s

What is the Umwelt Arena?

The Umwelt Arena is 5 floors high, all dedicated to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by Switzerland and its citizens. The subsoil presents the mobility with low CO2 emissions. There are different models of electric vehicles: cars, bicycles, scooters, all are represented and are open access. You can drive them on a 300-meter path and get an idea of ​​it, without prejudice.

The ground floor focuses on everyday life; the different labels of consumer products that let you know how what you buy was produced, as well as the waste management that results from our daily life. The first floor develops the green mobility that can be tested in the basement and the methods of production and storage of energy, as well as the management of the money people dedicate to their footprint reduction, etc. The second one presents the various tools for buildings construction and renovation: what methods of insulation, or heating for homes it is possible to install, which appliances to buy, what savings and what subsidies you could claim are questions to which you would find your answers. Finally, the terrace gave us a little insight into the different renewable energies that could be installed in your home or by a community.

Not so much utopian

We stayed longer in front of a prototype building that is self-sufficient in energy, completely cut off from the different energy networks. A utopia ? Not so much, if we believe Mr. Jörg SIGRIST. Indeed, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that people would equip all houses in the same way, but a large part of what is presented there is reproducible at a cost which is far from unreasonable.
The entire energy consumed in the house is produced by solar panels. These are placed on the roof obviously, but also on a large part of the facade. A particular emphasis has been placed on the aesthetics of the house, and it is rather successful.
This energy is stored in 4 ways:

1. A 150kWh battery to cover the electricity needs at night.

2. Some of the surplus energy produced in summer is used by a heat pump to heat large underground water tanks used to heat the house during the winter.

3. The rest of the electricity is used by a fuel cell, which produces di-hydrogen gas stored in a pressurized tank. This hydrogen is used only during the peak of winter, between December and January, to produce the electricity that would be missing, but also heat, thanks to a combined gas cycle.

4. Finally, if the electricity is very abundant, an exchanger heats the subsoil a few meters deep. This energy can be used as a supplement if necessary.

With all this system of production and storage, it is possible to cover the needs of a house of 9 families (3 people on average with 100 meter square flats). All the project partners, including our partner Engie, in charge of the management of the energy system, were subjected to a severe test. As Mr. Jörg Sigrist said, "we've been fighting for every kilowatt hour to be used effectively. A good kilowatt-hour is a kilowatt-hour saved ". It is therefore natural that the appliance, the heating system and the insulation of this house is what can be found best on the market. But beware! Even if tenants know that every kilowatt hour is precious, their lifestyle is very comfortable. They do not deprive themselves. For example, they benefit from a lift (very high energy performance, of course) and share 2 electric cars.

This house shows that for only 20% of the construction price in addition (excluding fuel cell, which is still a prototype), it is possible to deliver a house almost passive.

While this project may seem trivial and reserved for a tiny fringe of the population, the entire exhibition of the Umwelt Arena demonstrates that the means of action are extremely numerous. And it works. According to the satisfaction surveys carried out by the showroom teams, more than 80% of visitors leave the visit saying that they have learned something and wish to carry out home improvement work.

A landlord has a very broad panel of action. And even if the tenant can concentrate only on his way of moving, or consume, in any case, the environmental and financial benefits are always there.

The Swiss political process: an asset and a weakness

The Swiss democratic process, rather unusual in its numerous referenda, is, according to Mr. Jörg SIGRIST, both an asset and a weakness for the implementation of the energy transition. While seeking compromise and seeking to persuade is long-term and may delay decision making and their implementation, it allows for greater popular support, which is lacking in many of the countries we have visited.

After long discussions, the Swiss people showed last May during a vote session that they were convinced of the need for the energy transition, whether for reasons of ecology, energy security, fear of the atom or for reasons for economic competitiveness. This Umwelt Arena shows the way.