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SOLUTION Site Cernier


Project status



The community of Cernier in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland is one of four pilot communities within the SOLUTION project. It is a typical Swiss community (most municipalities do not have more than 10 000 inhabitants), which makes it a good national role model and the experiences can be transferred to other Swiss cities of similar size.

SOLUTION’s demonstration site in Cernier consists of 1 new and 6 refurbished buildings, including a nursery school, a primary school, a multi-family house and a farmhouse. The renewable energy systems implemented in Cernier included biogas cogeneration, heat pumps, wood boilers, solar thermal collector and photovoltaic installations. A key development project at Cernier was the construction of an agricultural biogas plant for district heating and cogeneration.


Demo Site Expected Impact

*The KPIs for the new and refurbished buildings are compared with the baseline of a reference building.

Overall a gross floor area of 12 744 m² has been refurbished during the project and 5148 m² have been newly constructed. The final energy consumption, according to monitoring data, has been measured before and after the interventions for all the refurbished buildings on the demo site. The results show that the average value for heating energy consumption exceeds 290 kWh/m²/yr before the retrofitting measures. The planned interventions for retrofitting reduced the total energy consumption for heating to 150 kWh/m²/yr. With regard to the new buildings, the reference value is 45 kWh/m²/yr and 28 kWh/m²/yr for the SOLUTION building.

This represents 1615 MWh/yr of final energy savings. The primary energy savings go up to 2540 MWh/yr while the CO2 reduction amounts to 398 tonnes every year.

Site facts and figures

  • Estimated population involved: 2,000
  • Approx. geographical area coverage 911 km2
  • Approx. energy saving: 70 %
  • Approx. energy from RES: 90 %



At Cernier in total 12,700 m² of buildings will be refurbished. Among them are a nursery school, a primary school (Picture 1), a multi-family house and a farmhouse. Applied technologies within the retrofit activities will comprise small-scale solar thermal systems, photovoltaics (Picture 2, some connected to battery storages), heat pumps (geothermal) and wood boilers.

The extension of an existing district heating system (DHS) based on wood is under discussion. Additionally a new CHP plant fuelled by biogas (produced from manure and green residues) has already been implemented (Picture 3+4). Altogether the produced energy will cover 58% of the heating demand and 12% of the electricity demand in Cernier.

Biogas production and cogeneration plant

A cogeneration plant has been constructed and completed by the end of 2011. The biogas production started in January 2012 and the feed-in of the heat into the existing district heating network has started in March 2012. The power production is 820’000 kWhel/a and the heat production 1’175’000 kWhth/a. About 700’000 kWh/a are used for the district heating system, the rest is used for the biogas plant itself.

Buildings and energy

The interventions in Cernier include:

Energy efficiency in buildings

  • Building integrated renewable energy sources
    • Photovoltaics
  • Heat pumps
  • Building services (HVAC and lighting)
    • Individual reduction of consumption thanks to awareness tools, including access to instantaneous consumption, visit from energy advisor, implementation of saving tools such as those avoiding standby-mode

Energy systems integration

  • District heating
  • Cogeneration (CHP)
    • Construction of an agricultural biogas plant for district heating and cogeneration, which enables treating 7500 tons of organic waste, and feeding 740 MWh/yr of electricity to the grid and about 700 MWh/yr of heat to the district heating. Beyond creating additional revenue for the farmer operating the plant, the facility also allowed for the creation of necessary storage volume for the collected pig manure, as no manure can be brought out to the fields during the winter. These two factors ensure the ongoing continuity of the farm’s operation. The decomposed manure creates a fertiliser that is easier to absorb for the plants and avoids the release of methane into the atmosphere.
  • Biomass boiler
  • Thermal collectors
  • Smart street lighting

The investment cost for the intervention was EUR 2.3 million in total, which includes the costs of methanisation equipment (EUR 1 million), cogeneration (EUR 225 000) and technical building (EUR 275 000). The remuneration for electricity fed to the grid is CHF 0.427/kWh (excl. VAT), based on an average yearly power production of 93 kW el. The payback period is 7 years.

Lessons learnt

The following information has been gathered as part of the CONCERTO Premium policy research.

Benefits of CONCERTO:

Key benefits:

Ease and promotion of projects, improved image of the area and role of an example for other municipalities.

Skill development: Courses and information evenings where organized and reached in total about 200 people, 75 were involved in a test (smart-meters at home), 230 answered to a survey.

Local economic effects:

80% of the CONCERTO-related investment went to local businesses (for goods and services).


Barriers encountered:

Legal barriers:

There was no spatial planning for wind turbines. One non-technical barrier was associated to the involvement of private, even residential investors as Third Parties requested as contract amendment to the EC services.

Technical barriers :

In case of buildings retrofitting, technical barriers due to historic buildings and architectural barriers that make a high efficient refurbishment  not possible or too expensive were encountered. Incitation to priories the refurbishment of public big and inefficient buildings (for instance schools from the seventies).

Economic barriers:

The exhaust of the feed-in tariffs for PV will be a problem for the PV demo projects. The relatively extended existing nature gas network will be a hurdle to the deployment of the new DH network. Also the relatively low density in building could make the DH difficult to be competitive. RES and to a certain extend also EE are sensitive to fossil fuel prices. The conversion of fossil DH to wood in Cernier or the development of a large PV plant in Hvar are very sensitive to the price of energy. Without surprise, RES and EE initiatives are subordinated to clear economic advantages. This means that favourable frame conditions such as direct supports to investments, guaranteed feed-in tariff or tax deductions are key factors.

Social barriers:

The merger of the 3 district heating projects is profitable but it will need additional agreement and new definitions of roles between actors.

Administrative barriers:

The city of Cernier lacks of human resources for the daily management of the project. The new municipality will have more resources to manage the project.


Success factors identified:

Social success factors:

Running interest in authorities and population for energy sufficiency.

Institutional success factors:

RES and EE initiatives are subordinated to clear economic advantages. This means that favourable frame conditions such as direct supports to investments, guaranteed feed-in tariff or tax deductions are key factors.


Business models used:

PPP for cogeneration plant, semi-private energy distributor (Groupe e, Viteos) , energy supply contracting (for DH and PV project, EWZ, Viteos, Groupe e).

The CONCERTO approach

The community’s aims are very ambitious: within five years, Cernier wants to reach energy independence by using 70% of renewable energy for heating and 90% for electricity – whereas at the moment less than 5% of the used energy comes from renewable sources.


Nicolas Macabrey
Planair SA

Thematic Field

  • New Building(s)
  • Refurbished Building(s)

Carnier New Building

View more visualisations of SOLUTION Site Cernier