As college students, our lives depend upon basic amenities like hot water, wi-fi and heating. Yet do we ever think about who supplies Franklin energy and where this energy comes from? It is sad to say, but even as an environmental studies major, until I sat down to write this article I had no idea. This was in part due to my lack of concern for an important part of my daily life, and also due to a lack of available information. Luckily for all those now curious, I am here to explain to the student body some exciting news about Franklin’s energy supplier.

Franklin recently signed a new contract with AIL (Aziende Industriali di Lugano), our local energy provider, to transition to 100% hydroelectric power, meaning that all of the electricity that powers Franklin is now from rivers and streams. But what does this really mean, particularly for the average student at Franklin? This is what I set out to investigate in my research.

Hydropower is a viable alternative energy solution that converts the kinetic energy from moving water into electricity. Hydropower has been one of Switzerland’s largest energy sources following World War II. Today, there are 604 hydropower power plants in Switzerland and according to the Swiss Federal Office of the Energy, hydropower remains Switzerland's most important domestic sources of renewable energy. Abundant Swiss water sources allow Switzerland to be independent of foreign energy suppliers.

What are the pros and cons of using hydropower? Some positive aspects of hydropower are that it is clean, does not produce air pollution and generally produces few carbon emissions. Further, as Switzerland gets a lot of precipitation, hydropower is a reliable, domestic source of energy. It is also flexible, efficient and relatively inexpensive. However, a recent report in EcoWatch challenges some of the positive aspects of hydropower. Gary Wockner, author of and Colorado Director for the Clean Water Action, argues that hydropower can have devastating impacts on wildlife that depend on free-flowing water disrupted by a dam. He also argues that “dams and reservoirs emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide”, and suggests that these man-made bodies of water might provide habitat for mosquitoes. Whereas significant methane emissions from hydropower are generally limited to the tropical regions of the world, hydropower definitely comes with an environmental cost.

How will hydropower affect Franklin? The transition to hydroelectricity will have no noticeable effects on our daily lives, meaning all of our electricity needs will continue to be met and work as smoothly as ever. Tomaso Rizzi, Vice President for Finance and Administration at Franklin, notes that this is another step in a sustainable direction for our school. "By using a sustainable and long-lasting ecological source of energy such as hydroelectricity, Franklin will be a more virtuous and environment-friendly institution," said Rizzi.

Previously, Franklin purchased "grey energy” from AIL, which meant that the purchased energy came from a variety of sources that were not always known. The hydropower certification guarantees that all energy provided to Franklin comes from hydroelectric power stations in Ticino (95%) and the rest of Switzerland (5%). Furthermore, this new energy source will also be more cost-effective, so it makes financial sense for the university to make the switch. Franklin will pay approximately two cts/kWh less for this new energy, making this an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective switch.

While this change in Franklin's power source is positive, we need additional studies throughout Switzerland to examine potential negative environmental impacts reportedly caused by this source of electricity. Ultimately, learning to conserve electricity is the most sustainable option.

For more information on Environmental Studies at Franklin check out our Majors page and the Franklin Center for Sustainability Initiatives (CSI).