PSI Energy Concept


The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI is the largest research centre for natural and engineering sciences in Switzerland, conducting cutting-edge research in the fields of matter and materials, human health, and energy and environment. By performing basic and applied research, it works on sustainable solutions for major challenges facing society, economy and science.

With the neutron source SINQ, the Swiss Light Source SLS, the SμS muon source and, in future, the Swiss X-ray Free-Electron Laser SwissFEL, PSI runs large research facilities that provide extraordinary insights into the processes that occur inside various substances and materials. These facilities are unique in Switzerland, some even worldwide. Besides the actual large facilities, PSI also runs a series of other unique research facilities – especially for energy research – such as a hot lab and a smog chamber.

For its infrastructure to function properly, PSI requires an extremely reliable power supply. It satisfies its energy needs with various energy sources, including electricity, district heating and fuels.

PSI responds to the changing infrastructural requirements through long-term planning and, if necessary, flexible adjustments. Growth and increasing demands on the energy services will also depend on major investments in the energy supply at PSI in future. These investments must be energy-efficient, ecologically sustainable and economical.

Besides the direct use of energy to operate its own infrastructure, PSI and its staff use materials and services that have or cause a high energy requirement. This indirect energy consumption is also important to gain a holistic view of PSI’s energy use. Examples include the energy expenditure for mobility or grey energy for construction materials.
As the leading house for the Competence Centre Energy and Mobility, PSI has been supervising the tendering, evaluation and implementation of major collaborative projects in energy research in the ETH Domain since 2006. It also played a key role in developing the Coordinated Energy Research Action Plan to support the Federal Council’s Energy Strategy 2050. As leading house, PSI also assumes responsibility for two of the Swiss Competence Centres for Energy Research (Electricity and Heat Storage, and Biomass), which are to receive funding from the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) from 2014 under the action plan. Two research and technology transfer platforms on the topics of obtaining, converting and storing renewable energy, and biomass conversion are realised at PSI.
In light of the challenges facing the further development of Switzerland’s energy system for a prosperous national economy and highlighting options for a sustainable global energy supply, the Directorate has developed an energy concept for PSI with fields of action and concrete measures.
Research findings and political and social framework conditions all serve as guidelines for this energy concept. Moreover, the institute’s role model function should also be evident.

Guiding Principles

  1. PSI runs internationally competitive, large research facilities for a broad national and international user community.
  2. PSI conducts and promotes internationally recognised cutting-edge research for a sustainable energy supply.
  3. PSI acts as a role model for efficient energy use.
  4. PSI conveys up-to-date knowledge on energy-related issues to its apprentices, post-graduates, post-docs and staff.
  5. The Energy Concept is in keeping with the strategic development of PSI. Its currentness and implementation is reviewed periodically and, if need be, amended by the PSI Directorate.
  6. Conflicts of interest are taken into consideration, scrutinised and communicated transparently. Decisions should be broadly supported by consulting an expert committee appointed by the Directorate. Examples of conflicting interests at PSI include:
    1. Operating large research facilities vs energy use
    2. Global orientation of research and education vs CO2 emissions related to mobility
    3. Technical feasibility vs financial parameters
    4. Research and educational needs vs measures to increase energy efficiency
    5. Using funds to subsidise the acquisition of new technologies vs funds for PSI’s own research
  7. With due regard to the aforementioned conflicts of interest, energy is used as efficiently as possible at PSI.
  8. The energy services to be rendered permitting, low-order energy forms (e.g. waste heat) are preferred over higher-order energy forms (e.g. electricity).
  9. PSI defines reduction scales for its own end energy needs in defined sectors, the use of non-renewable energies and its CO2 emissions. These reduction scales include targets for 2020 and 2035.
  10. For long-term and bigger decisions, the specific knowledge of PSI’s own staff is systematically requested and integrated.
  11. PSI actively seeks an exchange of ideas on energy with universities and industry in order to improve steadily by implementing best-practice examples.
  12. The Energy Concept prompts concrete measures in the following fields of activity:
    1. Construction, operation and renovation of large research facilities
    2. Research
    3. Education of and awareness-raising among PSI staff
    4. New buildings and redevelopments
    5. Operation of the basic infrastructure
    6. Mobility
    7. Reporting and communication
  13. The measures are systematically collected and evaluated, their implementation reported to the Direction annually and their successes publicised accordingly.

Concrete Fields of Activity for the PSI Energy Concept

Large Research Facilities

PSI runs internationally competitive, large research facilities on behalf of the Swiss Confederation for a broad national and international user community. Due to physical circumstances, these facilities are extremely energy-intensive. Although the benefits gained from the research conducted at these facilities justifies this energy use, the energy aspect is also factored into their planning, construction, operation and renovation.
  • Renovation programmes at the accelerator facilities enable older components to be replaced with new, efficient and energy-optimised parts. Aspects of energy efficiency should serve as a general guideline for refurbishments, modernisations and replacement equipment.
  • For new components and facilities (e.g. SwissFEL), particular attention is paid to energy efficiency (e.g. heat recovery, power electronics, magnets, high-frequency components).
  • When planning new research facilities, a targeted energy-minimisation and optimisation process should be carried out, preferably with the involvement of specialists.
  • When procuring equipment, the most efficient options are generally preferred in terms of a life-cycle evaluation.


There is a long tradition of energy research at PSI. Over 380 members of staff with more than eighty doctoral students and forty-five postdocs shape energy research in the following subject areas: the exploitation of renewable energies, the efficient conversion and use of energy, the supply of electricity, the safe operation of nuclear facilities and the permanent disposal of radioactive waste.
  • PSI conducts internationally recognised cutting-edge research in the energy sector. Switzerland needs a long-term, sustainable energy outlook, which requires concrete solution strategies and long-term technological and social innovations in equal measure. PSI would like to make a contribution towards this.
  • PSI is specifically expanding its research competence in three fields: exploiting renewable energies, biomass conversion and energy storage. Research and technology transfer platforms are planned and realised to develop and present the related technologies. The topics of operating nuclear power stations safely and the permanent storage of radioactive waste are an additional focus.
  • The Competence Centre for Energy and Mobility (CCEM) has been promoting the collaboration within the ETH Domain in projects aimed at producing energy sources from renewable energies, generating electricity and increasing efficiency in the building and mobility sectors since 2006. PSI is the CCEM’s leading house.
  • PSI is actively involved in several Swiss Competence Centres for Energy Research, which are to be established by the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) from 2014. The increasing interdisciplinary nature of energy research is thus being taken into account intensively.

Education and Awareness-Raising

PSI makes valuable contributions to teaching at Switzerland’s academic institutions and educates post-graduate students and postdocs. These are joined by almost 100 students in the non-academic sector.
  • PSI boosts its staff’s understanding of energy-relevant topics.
  • PSI provides a substantial amount of its own funding to finance doctoral projects and postdoc stints in energy research.
  • PSI is increasingly addressing the interdisciplinary approach to answering questions on a sustainable energy supply.
  • The critical discussion on energy-related topics such as a sustainable energy, economic viability or efficiency at all educational levels is also to be encouraged at PSI.
  • The staff at PSI are motivated for resource-conserving conduct through incentives and awareness-raising.
  • PSI’s organisational units and offices are involved in the efforts to increase energy efficiency at PSI while striving for a balance between individual responsibility and guidelines.

New Buildings and Redevelopments

Energy efficiency has been taken into consideration for new buildings and redevelopments at PSI for quite some time. In doing so, energy efficiency targets that achieve or even exceed well-established energy labels are striven for. The efforts are rounded off with the construction and expansion of a comprehensive heat recovery system from the large research and infrastructural facilities.
  • PSI aims for a holistic view of the site’s energy consumption, taking optimised solutions with regard to overall energy and energy expenditure into account.
  • PSI aims to reduce CO2 emissions rapidly and increase the proportion of renewable energy in its infrastructural energy use, which it guarantees through concrete energy-related demands on redevelopment concepts and new building standards.
  • In tenders, PSI focuses on sustainability criteria in general and energy efficiency in particular. Considering the entire lifecycle is an integral part of this.
  • In the case of larger investment projects, PSI assesses costs, energy consumption and emissions throughout the investment’s entire lifecycle. For new buildings, state-of-the-art technology and energy-efficient building methods that are tailored to the particular mode of usage are used.

Operation of the Basic Infrastructure

The infrastructural energy efficiency has been optimised at PSI for years and is becoming increasingly important. It is harmonised with the operational planning of the large research facilities.
  • Securing the energy supply is central and a top priority for PSI.
  • Where appropriate, PSI supports the production of renewable electricity and, on a case-by-case basis, its implementation with partnerships.
  • Since 2013 the proportion of power from renewable energy sources at PSI has been at least as large as or bigger than in the entire Swiss power mix (production mix). The proportion of power from renewable energy sources is steadily being increased.
  • PSI specifically advocates the operation of the new comprehensive heat recovery system and its expansion.
  • Internal PSI guidelines and standards regarding energy efficiency are considered seriously when purchasing the building and climate technology used.
  • The main energy consumers’ operations are optimised systematically and continuously (building technology, IT infrastructure and other large-scale equipment).
  • PSI has guidelines on energy efficiency for the procurement of standard equipment (e.g. refrigerators, computers, printers etc.).


PSI is in constant talks with the Canton of Aargau and the neighbouring municipalities. The aim is to maximise the use of public transport and non-motorised transport by its staff through mobility management.
  • For international networking, PSI provides alternatives (e.g. video conferencing) and actively encourages their use.
  • Air travel is used sparingly at PSI.
  • If possible, rail travel is preferred over air or road travel.
  • PSI motivates its commuters to opt for environmentally friendly mobility by promoting public transport (direct and evening buses) and non-motorised transport (cycling, walking).
  • Through the promotion of the public transport services and car park management, PSI is looking to minimise the amount of motorised individual transport while taking the geographic circumstances into account.

Reporting and Communication

For the last twenty years, PSI has been recording its energy statistics systematically and reporting them transparently both internally and externally. PSI has officially been involved in the programme RUMBA (Resource and Environmental Management of the Swiss Federal Government) since 2000.
  • Appropriate and cost-effective energy controlling is conducted in all energy-related areas.
  • Energy-related data on awareness-raising is made available to the individual organisational units annually.
  • The key energy figures are not only supplied for office and lab buildings absolutely, but also relatively to performance indicators (e.g. per full-time equivalent (FTE) or per m2). For the large research facilities, this relative consideration takes place with suitable indicators (e.g. energy/user hour, energy/beam current).


Publisher: PSI Directorate

Editorial team: workgroup “PSI Energy Concept” with invaluable support from the corresponding workgroup at ETH Zurich.
Dr Peter Allenspach
Telephone: 0041 56 310 2111