Can a City Cut Its Energy Use by 2/3?

Zurich, Switzerland
Residents walk and ride bicycles in downtown Zurich, Switzerland. Many in Zurich are trying to reduce their energy use to 2,000 watts per second. That's the global average, but far below the average of 6,000 in Europe and 12,000 in the United States.

On the eve of the historic climate change summit in Copenhagen, the "climate express" rolled into the Danish capital from Brussels tonight - a green-striped train carrying environmentalists and journalists.

Zurich and other Swiss cities have what they call a 2,000-watt solution to climate change, as CBS news correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports

Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, has a radical goal: to reduce the amount of energy residents use by two-thirds and become a 2,000-watt society.

If you take all the energy being consumed on earth and divide by the number of people it works out to about 2,000 watts per person, every second of every day. That's roughly the energy it takes to keep 20, 100-watt light bulbs burning. But how many of us are using more than our share?

Top of the list are Americans who use 12,000 watts each. Europeans use about half that much - 6,000 watts on average. Africans and Bangladeshis use less than 700.

So can each member of a modern Swiss family really live on the same energy it takes to power 20 light bulbs?? Martina Blum, an environmental economist, decided to try in a custom-built house with features like a ventilation system that recycles all warmth including body heat.

Features like that are expensive - but Swiss banks offer lower mortgage rates for energy efficient homes. To conserve even more energy, Blum's family also eats locally produced food. Aand their hybrid car spend most of its time in the driveway.

So how close are they? Down to about 3,500 watts. Not quite 2,000 but a vast improvement with no loss of comfort.

"The 2,000-watt society is not what some people criticize. They say it's cold, it's uncomfortable, it's no fun" said Roland Stultz, director of the group 2,000 Watt Society. "This is not true."

Swiss cities are now investing serious public money in the 2,000 watt vision - making trains and trams easier and cheaper than cars, and encouraging people to cycle or walk. The effort is paying off

"In cities like Basel, Zurich, about 40 percent of households don't even own a car," Stultz said.

Anna Roschewitz and Beat Meier certainly don't, and they recently decided to renovate their 1960's home to a 2,000-watt standard.

"It's proven. It's proven technology," said Meier. "Maybe the combination here or the target we set is a little ambitious, but it's not really. We are not even pioneers anymore."

Maybe not pioneers - but the Swiss are trailblazers, showing the world a 2,000-watt future can look very bright.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."