Stefan Nowak, founder of NET Nowak Energie & Technologie SA, and Anita Maric Fasel, the firm’s managing director, represent the past, present and future of this internationally renowned renewable energy consultancy.

NET Nowak Energie & Technologie SA has been providing its renewable energy consulting services to clients around the world for over 25 years. What is the secret behind the longevity of the pioneering consultancy? In an interview with Fribourg Network Freiburg, Dr. Stefan Nowak, company founder, senior advisor at NET NOWAK, experimental physicist and winner of the 2017 Becquerel prize, and Anita Maric Fasel, NET Nowak’s new director and environmental engineering graduate from EPFL, attribute much of the firm’s success to its objectivity and the high practical value of its services.

It was pretty far-sighted of you to focus your energies on photovoltaics back in the early 2000s.
It’s true that back then the technology did not enjoy the widespread acceptance that it does today. When I worked at the university, I was on contract with the Swiss Federal Office of Energy to oversee technology transfer and photovoltaics research nationwide. I had a feeling that this field had a very bright future ahead and setting up my own company would give me the freedom to be involved in every part of the entire innovation-to-implementation process and, of course offer advice as well.

What is the secret of your success?
We make every effort to go beyond simple concepts and provide our clients with actionable insights and data that facilitate their decision-making. One of our first contracts, in 1999, came from the city of Zurich. It wanted us to assess the city’s photovoltaic potential. This work led us to develop a scientific method to calculate PV potential based on building analyses. Today, there are IT tools out there that can easily perform these calculations, but back then, at the turn of the millennium, what we were doing was entirely new! This work increased our visibility and brought in more clients who wanted us to analyze their PV potential, too.

It wasn’t long before you were awarded international contracts as well.
We have worked on several international projects that received European Commission support. We were also behind one of the first analyses – for the International Energy Agency – on the role of renewable energies. At that time, oil was still regarded as the obvious choice. We wanted to nudge the world into making the shift.

In 2004, the company set up the REPIC platform, a subsidy program to promote the use of renewables in developing countries. It has since become one of Switzerland’s key instruments to support the transition to cleaner energy. It is a rather special kind of contract because four federal offices are involved:  Environment, Energy, Economic Affairs and Development & Cooperation. Sustainability is an integral part of all the projects and our role in them is to carry out an objective analysis and draw on our extensive network of experts, if need be.

What are your principal areas of activity and who uses your services?
We deliver rigorous and objective studies, analyses and advice. Most of our clients are institutions like the European Commission. We also work with the federal, cantonal and municipal authorities in Switzerland, usually in connection with Cité de l’énergie certification. As part of this work, we have carried out analyses of the Confederation’s building stock and produced a report for the Canton of Fribourg which subsequently formed the basis of its photovoltaics strategy. Currently, we are the lead coordinator of solar energy training in French-speaking Switzerland and of the European research program SOLAR-ERA.NET. We are also involved in the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP), which is part of the Horizon Europe Program and co-funded by the European Union. The final strand of our work is organizing national and international conferences on renewables and sharing our objective and pragmatic expertise to ensure that the construction industry – a key sector along with mobility – gives greater thought to energy issues.

Has the construction sector finally embraced energy efficiency?
The fact that buildings have a long-life cycle – in Switzerland, we build them to last for 50 years or more – means that the sector is still fairly conservative. This means that people want to know whether technologies like photovoltaics also have a long shelf life. The main challenge here is renovating existing building stock to make them more energy efficient. But the pace of change is still too slow.
AMF: It is the perfect time to move to solar power: it’s a cheap, clean and noiseless technology. People can have their own photovoltaic system at home and use the energy it generates to charge their electric car, which can even store the surplus.