DE | EN | FR


Recommendations for Landscape Development through Renewable Energy Infrastructures in Switzerland

Complementary Study within the scope of the National Research Programme «Energy»
(NRP 70 and 71) with recommendations for practice.

Energy Turnaround and Landscape

The transformation of the Swiss energy system requires the expansion of the use of various renewable energies. The necessary infrastructure is changing the landscape.

How the population perceives these changes has a decisive influence on the social acceptance of the energy infrastructures. The ENERGYSCAPE project examined in a preference study how the people judge the impact of a combination of different types of renewable energy infrastructures on the landscape.

Research Questions

1. How does the Swiss population perceive a combination of different types of renewable energy infrastructures and the associated landscape changes and how do they judge them?
2. What influence does the landscape have on the judgment of landscape developments through renewable energy infrastructures?
3. What influence do the people’s connotations assigned to landscape and energy systems have on their judgements?

Transformation of the Energy System

Around 80 percent of Switzerland's energy supply is based on imported fossil fuels and nuclear fuels from abroad. During winter, also Switzerland's electricity supply depends on imports (SFOE 2016). In this way, Switzerland is geographically, politically and technically integrated into the European energy market. Rising energy requirements, supply bottlenecks, fluctuating prices and the need to reduce the negative environmental impact of the energy sector pose a complex challenge for Switzerland and Europe as a whole.

With its Energy Strategy 2050, Switzerland has decided to restructure the Swiss energy system, in particular to phase out nuclear energy. In addition to increasing energy efficiency, the Energy Strategy 2050 aims at substantially expanding the use of renewable energies. Wind energy and photovoltaic systems are the most relevant infrastructures affecting the visual landscape. Also high-voltage lines must be increasingly integrated into the landscape.

The realisation of renewable energy infrastructures requires a high level of social acceptance. This includes various aspects (cf. NRP-Project «Acceptance of Renewable Energy»). The ENERGYSCAPE project focuses solely on the «Landscape» aspect. How people perceive and judge changed landscapes is an important factor for the overall acceptance of these infrastructures.

The question therefore arises how the landscape perspective of social acceptance can be better taken into account in renewable energy infrastructure projects. The intention of the ENERGYSCAPE project is to show how the landscape assessment of renewable energy infrastructures from the population’s point of view can be investigated. Moreover, findings and recommendations for planning practice are derived from the assessments.

Landscapes with Energy Potential

From the physical energy potential to the selection of character landscapes

To investigate the social assessments of landscape developments through a combination of different renewable energy infrastructures, character landscapes of Switzerland were used. The figure shows the general procedure for selecting them.

Based on the physical energy potential of the 38 Landscape Types of Switzerland, thirteen landscapes were identified that are important for the provision of renewable energy according to their energy potential. They were then grouped into eight character landscapes. In these selected landscapes, concrete locations — so called «Vistas» — were selected, which represent seven of the generalised character landscapes. [More information: «Brochure»]

Character landscapes defined in the ENERGYSCAPE project:

Conflicts and Knowledge Gaps

In many places, the planning and implementation of renewable energy infrastructures leads to conflicts of interest with the preservation of nature and landscape values and with other spatial uses. However, there is a lack of knowledge to be able to assess the landscape effects of renewable energy infrastructures on landscape quality. In particular, it is not known how a combination of different types of energy infrastructures in certain landscapes in Switzerland is perceived and judged by the population. The influence the landscape and the connotations to the landscape and energy infrastructures has on this judgement is also largely unexplored.

Concepts and strategies for the planning of landscape development in Switzerland generally include requirements for one specific type of energy infrastructure. However, there are no concepts for landscape development that deal with spatial coordination for a combination of different types of renewable energy infrastructures. Concrete landscape quality objectives are needed in order to develop appropriate landscape concepts. To ensure a long-term persuance of the objectives of a landscape concept, it is of pivotal importance to include the people’s view.

Preference Study

How does the population judge energy landscapes

The preference study systematically examined how the population judges different scenarios in seven character landscapes of Switzerland for a number of different combinations of renewable energy infrastructures such as wind energy and photovoltaic (PV) systems as well as high-voltage overhead lines. A laboratory experiment and an online survey were part of this study. [More information: «Making of» und «Brochure»]

Which picture do you choose? — If you had to choose one of the following scenarios: What decision would you make?


Assessment of landscape developments through renewable energy infrastructures

The online survey of 844 people provides representative statements on the perception and judgment of the Swiss population. The results illustrate which developments the representative sample of the Swiss population prefers when comparing the character landscapes. The figure illustrates the overall judgment of the investigated character landscapes. It corresponds to the sum of the judgments of all 32 examined scenarios per character landscape.

In the survey, respondents did not have to worry about the need for energy infrastructures to ensure electricity production from renewable energy sources in accordance with the Energy Strategy 2050. They also did not have to consider alternative solutions for electricity production or the spatial distribution of energy infrastructures.

The representative sample of the Swiss population evaluates photovoltaic and wind energy infrastructures in the «Urbanized Plateau» characterised by settlements and in «Touristic Alpine Areas» with tourist infrastructure such as ski lifts much more positively than in the other character landscapes.

However, the more natural a landscape is, the more negative the judgment of developments by energy infrastructures generally is. The surveyed population also seems to want to protect the agricultural landscapes in the «Jura», the «Agricultural Plateau» and the «Pre-Alps» from changes caused by renewable energy infrastructures. [More information: «Brochure»]

The judgment of the scenarios

Explore how the representative sample of the Swiss population judges different scenarios in the character landscapes with different combinations of wind energy and photovoltaic infrastructures on roofs, façades and also on open spaces as well as high-voltage power lines in different quantities!

Landscape developments with a low to medium level of solar energy use (PV systems) are rated most positively by the representative sample of the Swiss population. If these scenarios are supplemented with a low number of wind turbines, they are still rated higher than or very similar to a scenario without any energy infrastructure at all. The least desirable scenarios are those that include a medium to high number of wind turbines, a high number of PV infrastructures including open space systems and high-voltage overhead lines. [More information: «Brochure»]

Influence of the landscape on the judgments

Physiological reaction to landscape scenarios with renewable energy infrastructures

Emotional reactions lead to measurable physiological effects. In the laboratory experiment, the change in skin conductance was measured using sensors on the fingers of the participants. The differences in skin conductance indicate how much a person's arousal or attention changes when viewing the landscape scenarios.

The figure shows the mean number of skin conductance responses (nSCR) while viewing the landscape scenarios with few (LOW) and with many (HIGH) wind energy and PV infrastructures.

If the participants looked at landscapes with many energy infrastructures, their skin conductivity was generally higher than for landscapes with few infrastructures. The landscape scenarios with a combination of many wind energy and PV infrastructures triggered a stronger emotional arousal in the participants than scenarios with few infrastructures.

Particularly in near-natural landscapes such as the «Further Alpine Areas» and the «Jura», the test persons reacted more sensitively to the quantity of energy infrastructures than in landscapes characterized by settlements. On the other hand, additional infrastructures in the landscape of the «Urbanized Plateau» did not trigger any further emotional reactions from the viewers.

The physiological response is «only» an indicator of the intensity of arousal or attention. In particular, there is no direct relationship between emotional arousal and a positive or negative perception of the shown scenarios. Together with the degree of positive or negative judgment of the shown scenarios, however, landscape perception can be better understood. [More Information: «Brochure»]

Influence of the perceived landscape structure on the judgments

The judgment of the scenarios depends on the respective landscape context. Thus, scenarios with few (LOW) and many (HIGH) wind energy and PV infrastructures are judged differently in the seven character landscapes.

With indicators for the landscape structure such as «perceived coherence», basic qualities of the physical landscape characteristics can be measured (cf. «Neue Ansätze zur Erfassung der Landschaftsqualität»). In the laboratory experiment, the participants judged how coherent they perceived the landscape on the basis of the prevailing structures and patterns.

The figure shows in the seven character landscapes the relative change in the coherence judgment of the landscapes with few (LOW) and with many (HIGH) wind energy and PV infrastructures compared to the landscape without energy infrastructures.

The perceived coherence in all landscapes differs greatly between the scenarios with few (LOW) and with many (HIGH) energy infrastructures. The amount of energy infrastructures therefore has a major impact on the perception of the landscape structure.

Interestingly, the landscape with few wind energy and PV infrastructures is perceived as more coherent in almost all character landscapes than those without. Few wind turbines are able to improve the visual landscape structure. However, only to a certain amount: if a large number of energy systems becomes visible, the perceived coherence decreases. [More information: «Brochure»]

The influence of connotations on the judgments

The online survey also served to investigate the connotations participants assigned to landscapes and renewable energy infrastructures. The results show that these assignments have an influence on the judgment of landscape scenarios.

How strong the influence of the connotations is has not yet been fully clarified. However, a clear tendency is recognisable:

- A positive effect on the scenario judgment can be observed if the landscapes are regarded as «Arcadian», i.e. with a romantic, idyllic, dreamy view, and if the renewable energy infrastructures are seen as a symbol for sustainability and for the dawn of a new era for mankind («Sustainability Progress»).

- A negative effect on the judgment of the scenarios is caused by more utilitarian landscape considerations, which are based on a beneficial use of the landscape for humans, and if the energy infrastructures are perceived as a step towards further mechanizing the landscape and as a manifestation of man's delusion of feasibility about nature («Mechanisation of Landscape»). [More Information: «Brochure»]

Furthermore, we were interested in whether and how these assignments of meaning can be influenced by interventions. We found that even short-term interventions such as a scenario description or a visualization style can have an effect. This leads to the conclusion that people's opinions and attitudes can be influenced — at short-term and differently — by means of communication contents.

However, no concrete recommendations for implementation can be derived from these results. In order to gain insights into how interventions within the context of preferred landscape developments are effective, a number of further studies are required.

Insights and Recommendations

How can renewable energy infrastructures be integrated into the Swiss landscape in such a way that they are accepted by the population? Based on the presented results of the preference study, the research team identified the following key findings and recommendations that could contribute to strengthening social acceptance for landscape development through renewable energy systems.

The findings and recommendations provide answers to three basic questions:

(1) Which landscapes are most suitable for a development through renewable energy infrastructures from the population’s point of view?

(2) Regarding landscape acceptance, which combination of types of renewable energy systems should be aimed at, based on the study results?

(3) What should be considered in the planning of renewable energy infrastructures with regard to landscape development?

The following five key findings from the ENERGYSCAPE study and recommendations derived from them should be taken into account when planning landscape development through renewable energy infrastructures:

(1) Landscape type and existing impacts play an important role in the judgment of landscape changes caused by energy infrastructures.

In a comparison of the eight landscapes studied, the representative sample of the Swiss population judged most positively landscape developments through renewable energy infrastructures in the «Urbanized Plateau» and — with some restrictions because they are more sensitive — in «Touristic Alpine Areas». They are currently rather not desired in near-natural «Further Alpine Areas».

(2) A large number of energy infrastructures can be judged negatively.

With the exception of photovoltaics on roofs and facades, an increasing number of infrastructures for generating renewable energy generally led to a more negative judgment of the landscape in all character landscapes. The study results show that major landscape changes caused by energy infrastructures stronger influence the perception of the landscape. In the case of landscape development through renewable energy infrastructures, it is therefore important to keep an eye on how the population perceives the intended amount of energy infrastructures in the landscape.

(3) Useful combinations of different types of energy systems are appreciated.

The representative sample of the Swiss population accepts landscape changes exclusively with photovoltaic systems best. Wind turbines and high-voltage overhead lines, in contrast, are rated worse. In individual character landscapes, the respondents judged visible combinations of moderate wind and solar energy use and overhead lines in a landscape scene better than scenarios with only one form of energy use.

(4) Photovoltaic infrastructures on roofs and facades rated positively.

For the representative sample of the Swiss population, it is normal that photovoltaic infrastructures on roofs and facades are visible in the landscapes of Switzerland. However, the majority rejects these infrastructures in well visible open spaces.

(5) Emotional reactions and connotations of landscape and energy infrastructures influence judgments of landscape changes by energy infrastructures.

Landscape is observed by people in different ways, for example as «Arcadian» or rather as «utilitarian». Some people associate energy infrastructures with sustainability progress, others with a further mechanisation of the landscape. How well infrastructures of renewable energies fit into a landscape depends on such assignments of meaning to landscapes and energy infrastructures. In addition, the unconscious emotional perception of the landscape influences rational decisions. In planning, one should try to take such findings into account.

[More information on the insights and recommendations: «Brochure»]

Concluding Remarks

Landscape Perspektive

The insights and recommendations derived from the research results do not in themselves constitute a strategy. However, they are intended to better incorporate the views of the population in spatial planning activities and thus to strengthen the basis for strategies for landscape development with renewable energy systems in Switzerland. For concrete projects at the local level, it should be borne in mind that landscape impact is only one of many factors influencing the social acceptance of renewable energy infrastructures. Factors such as the effects of control instruments, process design or added value for society also play an important role. These aspects are dealt with in depth in other projects of the NRP «Energy» (e.g. «Acceptance of renewable energy»).

Snapshot of the Judgment

The results of the present preference study represent a snapshot of how possible landscape developments through renewable energy infrastructures, especially wind energy and photovoltaic infrastructures, are judged in the representative population survey. Landscapes with a combination of different renewable energy infrastructures are relatively new for the Swiss population. What the implementation of the Energy Strategy 2050 means in spatial terms, is also still barely understood by the population. Social movements such as the «Climate Strike Movement» are changing society's perception and thus influencing the meaning the population assigns to renewable energy infrastructures. Accordingly, the judgments of the scenarios shown in the study can (possibly quite quickly) change.

The investigations are based on the technologies used today. The state of the art, in particular with regard to the integration of photovoltaic systems into buildings, is in some cases much more advanced, among other thanks to developments in the NRP «Energy». However, it will be some time before these are widely used.

Future studies focusing on the «Landscape» aspect may show whether the assigned meanings and judgments of landscapes with renewable energy systems in Switzerland change over time or not. In particular, longitudinal studies can be used to investigate such processes of change in detail.


Read the ENERGYSCAPE brochure with detailed project information and recommendations. Download the PDF of the brochure:

Download PDF


ETH Zürich and Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

ETH Zürich, PLUS — Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems
Prof. Dr. Adrienne Grêt-Regamey, Dr. Ulrike Wissen Hayek, Reto Spielhofer, Laura Endres and Prof. Dr. Tobias Luthe

ETH Zürich, Chair of Cognitive Science
Dr. Tyler Thrash and Dr. Victor Schinazi

WSL, Social Sciences in Landscape Research
Dr. Marcel Hunziker and Dr. Boris Salak

WSL, Land-use systems
Prof. Dr. Felix Kienast

Concept and Visual Design

Prof. Dr. Tobias Luthe, Dr. Ulrike Wissen Hayek and Ralph Sonderegger
PLUS — Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems
ETH Zürich

Dr. Oliver Wimmer
Knowledge and technology transfer NRP «Energy»
CR Kommunikation AG


Urs Steiger
Steiger Texte Konzepte Beratung

Technical Implementation

Ralph Sonderegger, Grafik & Kontrabass
Max Eschler, CR Kommunikation AG


Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
National Research Programme NRP 70 «Energy Turaround»
CH-3001 Bern

Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)
CH-3003 Bern

Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE)
CH-3003 Bern

Elektrizitätswerke des Kantons Zürich (EKZ)
CH-8901 Urdorf

Swissgrid AG
CH-5001 Aarau

Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL)
CH-8903 Birmensdorf

Sophie und Karl Binding Stiftung
CH-4020 Basel

Advisory Expert Group

Dr. Alfred Wittwer, SBB, Energie und Landschaft

Anke Domschky, ZHAW, Institut Urban Landscape, Dozentin für Landschaftsarchitektur

Dr. Astrid Björnsen, WSL, Leiterin Forschungsprogramm Energy Change Impact

Beat Schaffner, Meteotest AG, Geschäftsleitung, Präsident VR

Christian Moll, Swissolar, Leiter Wissensmanagement, Mitglieder & Solarprofis

Dr. Jonas Mühlethaler, Swissgrid AG, Research & Digitalisation Manager

Dr. Matthias Stremlow, BAFU, Sektion Ländlicher Raum, Sektionschef

Dr. Nebosja Bogdanovic, EKZ Renewables AG, Senior Manager Asset Development

Elisa Salaorni, BAFU, Sektion Landschaftsmanagement

Dr. Flurin Baumann, Amt f. Gemeinden u. Raumordnung Kanton Bern

Frederic Petrini-Monteferri, Laserdata GmbH, Managing Director

Hanspeter Fuchs, EKZ, Leiter Erneuerbare Energien

Jan Schudel, Binding Stiftung, Bereichsleiter Umwelt & Soziales

Joshu Jullier, Swissgrid AG, Communication Manager

Dr. Katja Maus, BFE, Sektion Energieforschung

Gallus Cadonau, SGS – Schweizerische Greina Stiftung, Geschäftsführer

Lukas Bühlmann, EspaceSuisse – Verband für Raumplanung, Direktor

Markus Geissmann, BFE, Bereichsleiter Windenergie

Mattia Cattaneo, ARE, Sektion Bundesplanungen

Dr. Regina Füeg, BPUK, Geschäftsführerin

Reto Rigassi, Swiss Eole, Geschäftsführer

Roman Hapka, Stiftung Landschaftsschutz Schweiz, stv. Geschäftsleitung

Stephan Thalmann, Alpiq AG, Portfolio Manager Renewables

The ENERGYSCAPE project team is solely responsible for the content and recommendations on this website. The statements are not necessarily in accordance with the views of the members of the Advisory Group.

«Making of»

How did we measure which landscape developments with renewable energy systems the Swiss population prefers? Learn more about the development of the 3D landscape simulations and the laboratory experiment.

Point Clouds and Environmental Sounds

The virtual representations of the landscape types are based on aerial and ground-based laser scanning data.

Terrestrial Laser Scanners (TLS) provide dense point clouds of physical surfaces that reproduce a realistic three-dimensional image of the landscape. The data were combined in the graphics programme Cinema 4D and supplemented with objects from wind energy and photovoltaic infrastructures.

The ambient sounds at the locations in the respective landscapes were recorded with a so-called soundfield microphone. The recordings were then mixed into coherent, characteristic sound sequences and linked to the virtual landscapes in videos.

Wind and Solar Energy Use in Seven Character Landscapes

The simulations show combinations of wind parks and photovoltaic infrastructures in seven character landscapes of Switzerland.

Different scenarios of wind energy and photovoltaic infrastructures as well as high-voltage overhead lines were integrated into the virtual landscapes. Three different scenarios were defined for wind and solar energy with different numbers of wind turbines (WT) or collector areas (PV infrastructures):
- LOW: 3 WT, 4500 m2 PV infrastructures
- MEDIUM: 6 WT, 9000 m2 PV infrastructures
- HIGH: 10 WT, 18000 m2 PV infrastructures

High voltage overhead lines were either present or not.

Investigating Preferences for Energy Landscapes in the Laboratory

To ensure that the landscape scenarios could be experienced as realistically as possible, the acoustic and the lighting conditions had to be optimised.

The Mobile Visual-Acoustic Laboratory «MVAL», a transportable aluminium construction with noise-absorbing curtains as walls and ceiling, served for the playback. In this laboratory the audio-visual simulations were shown. The processed ambient noises were reproduced with a system of five loudspeakers.

The study participants were asked which energy landscapes they preferred over others. In the experiment, the participants judged their perception of the landscape in the presented scenarios in relation to four basic qualities of the landscape: complexity, coherence, mystery and legibility. In addition, their skin conductance was measured using sensors on their fingers to explore the unconscious emotional responses to the landscape scenes.

[More information about the scenarios, the laboratory experiment and the online survey: «Brochure»]

Contact and Team

ETH Zürich
Prof. Dr. Adrienne Grêt-Regamey
Institute for Spatial and Landscape Development
Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5
8093 Zürich

ETH Zürich

PLUS — Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems

Prof. Dr. Adrienne Grêt-Regamey

Dr. Ulrike Wissen Hayek

Reto Spielhofer

Laura Endres

Prof. Dr. Tobias Luthe

Chair of Cognitive Science

Dr. Tyler Thrash

Dr. Victor Schinazi


Land-use sytems

Prof. Dr. Felix Kienast

Social Sciences in Landscape Research

Dr. Marcel Hunziker

Dr. Boris Salak

Steiger Texte Konzepte Beratung

Urs Steiger