Ciril Jazbec

Make your own glaciers

Kirche St. Peter

In the last decades, people in the Himalayan mountain communities of the Ladakh region in India have increasingly become climate refugees forced to abandon their valleys due to water shortages. The Himalayan glaciers have been receding, and water scarcity has never been so severe.

A few years ago, the ingenuity of Sonam Wangchuk, a Ladakhi engineer and innovator, brought about a beacon of hope. In 2015, he prototyped ice stupas, artificial glaciers resembling Tibetan religious stupas, which store winter meltwater and slowly release it for the growing season in spring, when water is most needed.

“This enemy wears no uniform, bears no allegiance to any nation-state, and carries no automatic weapons,” says Wangchuk, an engineer who also founded an alternative school in Ladakh. “Undeterred by borders, it bides by no international laws. We Ladakhis are on the front lines of a very different war.“

The ice stupas should not be considered a solution to the challenge. They stand for a final attempt of the Himalayan mountain communities to fight climate change.

Ciril Jazbec is a documentary photographer born in Slovenia in 1987. Before moving to London, he studied Management in Ljubljana. He obtained his Master’s degree in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication. He has been working as a contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 2014. His work focuses on communities that are confronted with the effects of globalisation and climate change. He has won numerous awards including a World Press Photo for his work “Make your own glaciers”.

Curated by Gisela Kayser / Printed by CEWE

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7: AFFORDABLE AND CLEAN ENERGY

Discover here contributions of ETH Zurich to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7:

Speeding up the energy transition

Tobias Schmidt

Professor Tobias Schmidt was always drawn by energy, an issue at the heart of societal challenges including climate change, economic development and health. An interdisciplinary researcher, his work builds on expertise in electrical engineering and the social sciences. 

Having spent time in developing countries on several occasions, Tobias experienced first-​hand what it means to live without electricity in poorer parts of the world. More than 600 million people lack access to electricity and clean cooking fuels, and this limits their development opportunities. 

Removing obstacles to the energy transition 

Tobias and his research group analyse how public policy can accelerate the transition to more sustainable energy systems. In developed countries, this means replacing technologies that emit carbon dioxide with technologies that do not. In low-​income countries, ​​it means enabling access to modern, renewable sources of energy, such as solar-​powered electricity. His research provides policy-​makers at national and international levels with recommendations on how to accelerate the transition to clean and affordable energy technologies. 

The energy transition is a key lever to mitigate climate change and enable sustainable development. But many obstacles stand in the way, be it technical, economic, societal or political. Tobias and his group aim to identify policy designs that can help remove these obstacles in an effort to accelerate the transition. 

Looking ahead, Tobias aims to broaden the scope of his research to include sectors where technologies for decarbonisation are less advanced, such as the freight and food industries. He is also actively thinking about what role the energy transition can play in creating new opportunities for developing countries to participate in energy and materials supply chains. 

Energy policy 

The good news is that many clean energy technologies are not only available, they are also becoming more affordable. To further accelerate the transition, public policy can play a key role to overcome the multiple obstacles that stand in the way. Economic policies and social actions need to be coherent and consistent.

“I hope we become better at pushing innovation in a direction where it helps to address societal challenges, instead of creating new societal problems.”

Prof. Dr. Tobias Schmidt, Head of the Energy and Technology Policy Group at ETH Zurich

More efficient electric devices

Ulrike Grossner

Professor Ulrike Grossner’s research is rooted in her childhood fascination with the purity and sustainability of water. Physics became her gateway to understanding the laws governing the natural world. Seeking to bridge abstract concepts with real-​world scenarios, she delved into solid-​state physics, working with materials composed of countless atoms.

This journey led Ulrike to the area of semiconductors – materials which act both as conductors and insulators. Semiconductors also make it possible to regulate and modulate electric power. She was captivated by the process of designing and manufacturing these materials to construct various devices like detectors and light-​emitting diodes.

Understanding semiconductors

Ulrike and her research group focus on understanding semiconducting materials, both in terms of their fundamental properties and practical applications. On the one hand, they seek to learn about the composition and potential defects of these materials – and on the other, they strive to bridge the gap between this understanding of the material and its applications, particularly in the field of power electronics.

Take the example of charging your laptop. To do that effectively, it is crucial to ensure that semiconductor switches used to convert power can also withstand high voltages on electricity transmission lines. The research group delves into the functionality of these devices, identifies key failure mechanisms that may arise in the material, and investigates how these failures can impact the performance and reliability of the devices during normal operation.

Efficient adapters and the future of mobility

It’s vital that electrical power is transferred from the grid to our appliances efficiently. Ulrike recommends investing in high-​efficiency adapters for devices like laptops and mobile phone chargers. Anyone can make this simple change, and the benefits can be enormous. One of her studies shows that if older chargers were replaced with more efficient ones years ago, the energy saved would have been equivalent to shutting down up to three nuclear power plants*.

​​​​​The ability to connect and communicate with people worldwide is one of the greatest technological advancements in recent decades. ​​In addition to telecommunications, many of us still rely on transport. Ulrike’s vision is for a future with clean and efficient mobility, where environmentally friendly practices are prioritised. She believes we must all strike a balance between preserving the benefits of travel and minimising its environmental impact.

“We all have seen in the last few years, how our own personal world, including family and friends, depends on mobility. Unrestricted mobility is vital for personal growth, fostering understanding, and promoting global unity.”

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Grossner, Head of the Advanced Power Semiconductor Laboratory at ETH Zurich

How to power the energy transition

Gianfranco Guidati

First attracted by energy science during his studies, Dr. Gianfranco Guidati went on to work for a power plant manufacturer as an engineer for gas turbines after graduation. In the 1990s wind turbines looked like toys and photovoltaics was so costly it could only be used on satellites. Fast forward to today, and it’s precisely these same technologies that generate the most affordable electricity.

Networked thinking

The energy transition cannot be achieved by changing single components or technologies – the entire system needs to be redesigned. Gianfranco is convinced that engineers now have to think in terms of systems because, more so than in the world of non-​renewable resources, all components of clean energy interact with each other in a complex way.

Gianfranco and his team aim to understand which technologies and systems are best used to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and reach the net zero target. These can be energy-​generation technologies such as photovoltaics, wind power, and geothermal energy; they can be storage technologies for heat, electricity and gases; or they can be end-​use technologies, such as heat pumps and electric vehicles. Gianfranco uses mathematical models to describe an energy system and then makes small changes – removing a technology, for example – to observe how the system reacts and how its various components interact.

From model to action

Based on these models, the researchers glean insights that lead to practical recommendations, helping policymakers and public administrators with preparing new legislation and incentives to promote the energy transition. Gianfranco and his colleagues identify which technologies should be developed, tested, and deployed to support the energy transition. To make their research findings more accessible, they went as far as to develop an augmented reality visualization of the present and future energy system, which is now displayed in the Swiss Museum of Transport.

Gianfranco is convinced that every contribution we make towards the energy transition, no matter how small, is valuable. This could be anything from eating less meat and flying less to using public transport or the bicycle more often, replacing oil or gas heating with a heat pump, and choosing to work in the field of renewable energies.

“The energy transition is possible, we just have to decide that we really want it – and then do it!”

Dr. Gianfranco Guidati, Deputy Director of the Energy Science Center at ETH Zurich

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