2000 Watt Society

Towards Global Energy Equity
A means of carbon reduction in rich countries in order to achieve global equity on a planet with limited resources, the 2,000 Watt Society proposes drastic reduction in energy consumption combinating technological innovation, behavioural change, and spatial planning


According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel demand should reach its peak soon, and investment in renewable energy will increase substantially by 2030.1IEA, ‘Overview and Key Findings – World Energy Investment 2022’, Paris, (2022) <https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-investment-2022/overview-and-key-findings> [accessed 24 February 2023]. This view, which prescribes a shift towards renewables, is widely accepted as an essential shift to address climate breakdown. However, it is argued by some that just replacing one form of energy with another is not enough to avoid the extremes of breakdown, it is also necessary to reduce overall energy consumption.2Marco Morosini, ‘A “2000-WATT SOCIETY” IN 2050: A REALISTIC VISION?’ in Proceedings of the Conference: Ethics and Climate Change : Scenarios for Justice and Sustainability, ed. by Matteo Mascia and Lucia Mariani, Fondazione Lanza (Padova: Fondazione Lanza, 2008), pp. 57-72. This is because endless increase in energy consumption would be accompanied by increase in general consumption, and in turn the continuation of the extractivist operations that have contributed to the ecological and environmental collapse. However, experts are increasingly warning that avoiding disaster is impossible unless wealthy countries reduce their energy consumption, not just substitute one type of energy for another.


The 2,000-Watt society concept originated from research conducted at ETH Zurich in the 1990s, which found that a maximum consumption of 2,000-Watt per capita, with 75% coming from renewable-energy resources, would ensure global warming remains within sustainable levels. The idea behind the 2,000-Watt society is that if rich countries such as Switzerland could decrease their energy consumption it would allow countries with energy insecurity to increase their energy use to 2,000 Watt without exceeding environmental limits. Even though the shift to non-fossil fuel energy is the ultimate goal, the need for energy reduction is still crucial in order to meet the rising global demand for energy services, electrification, and low-carbon supply.

This concept goes beyond mere energy consumption targets and carries significant implications for our society, given that the average Swiss consumption per capita is 6000W and over 12,000W for the United States. Switzerland, which imports 80% of its energy, surpassed the 2,000-Watt threshold in the 1950s. According to Swiss government reports, more than “100 towns and municipalities and 23 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons have set the goals of the 2,000-Watt society in their energy policy targets”.3Jordan G. Teicher, ‘Can Switzerland Ever Become a 2,000-Watt Society?’, The New Republic, 15 November 2022 <https://newrepublic.com/article/168750/switzerland-cop27-2000-watt-society> [accessed 8 November 2023]. Cities such as Basel, Munich, Vancouver, and Canberra, have also pursued planning based on the 2,000-Watt concept. However, climate experts and Swiss government officials are skeptical about the achievement of the 2,000-Watt society without more significant changes to lifestyles and politics. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy’s website outlines several “principles of action” for achieving the 2,000-Watt society, including avoiding air travel and using public transportation or walking and cycling to cover shorter distances, without providing specific numerical targets for energy consumption.4Energie Schweiz für Gemeinden, Handlungsleitsätze Für Netto Null Und 2000 Watt <https://www.local-energy.swiss/dam/jcr:eef2200d-8620-45d5-88a6-6c4250146adc/2021-11-24_ECHfG_2000WG_Handlungsleitsaetze.pdf> [accessed 8 November 2023]. Therefore, enforcing energy-efficiency standards and achieving the goals of the 2000-Watt society is not simply a technological challenge, but requires a strong political and cultural shift.

The 2,000-Watt society represents a departure from the prevailing model of unlimited growth and resource consumption. It challenges the notion that prosperity and progress are solely determined by high energy consumption. Instead, it promotes a more balanced and sustainable approach to energy use. Achieving the 2,000-Watt society requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves implementing energy-efficient technologies, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and adopting climate conscious practices in various sectors. This transformation extends beyond individual actions and necessitates systemic changes at the societal and political levels. It requires a reevaluation of lifestyles, patterns of consumption, and societal norms. It also calls for the development and implementation of policies that promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, and technologies such as zero-energy houses, heat pumps, or biogas along with public education and awareness campaigns. Ultimately, associating energy reduction with progress is a cultural shift challenging the dominant notions of success and prosperity, representing a comprehensive transformation with massive implications for our energy systems, economy, culture, and global cooperation.


External links

Novatlantis—an ETH Zurich program researching the 2000-Watt society feasibility 

2000 Watt calculator—introduced by the city of Zurich to help residents to figure out their energy consumption  

2000 Watt certificate—developed by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy promoting the implementation of the national energy policy