Heritage Society Sees Red Over Zurich's Decision To Green-Light Solar Panels

Energy efficiency is all well and good – just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of aesthetics. That’s the message being sent by critics of new regulations that make it easier for people to retrofit Zurich's existing buildings with solar panels

Are these roofs ready for solar panels? (vauvau)
Are these roofs ready for solar panels? (vauvau)


ZURICH The Cantonal Council in Zurich has eased regulation on fitting existing buildings with energy-efficient features such as replacement windows, external insulation, and – to the dismay of many – solar panels.

Council members agree that outfitting existing buildings is a necessity: of all the Swiss cantons, Zurich is lowest ranked in terms of the energy efficiency of its buildings. In general, buildings in Switzerland are energy guzzlers that together account for 40% of the nation's energy consumption and leave a significant carbon footprint.

Many people in the historic Swiss city, however, draw the line when it comes to solar panels – which may be energy savers, but can also be real eyesores. Under the eased regulations, solar panels can now be installed in all of Zurich's zones. Authorities are to grant permission for solar panels if they are, in the words of paragraph 238 of the new regulations, "carefully integrated into roof and facade and insofar as placement of such panels does not go against the overwhelming public interest." Neighbors, in other words, will no longer be able to block installation on the grounds that solar panels don't fit in with specific architecture or landscape.

"Not at any price"

Some councilors like Gabi Petri (Green party) are concerned that the new regulations will lead to over-installation of the panels, and thus make a mockery of prevailing heritage protection of both sites and specific buildings and monuments. Petri is worried that without explicit reference to existing heritage laws in the new regulations, the interpretation of what does and does not constitute the "overwhelming public interest" would be left up to building permit bureaucrats. "It makes sense to support solar panels," says Petri. "But not at any price."

The Swiss Heritage Society (SHS) is also unhappy with the new regulations. The SHS says it favors renewable energy, and hence the installation of whatever is required to use it. But on no account, the group argues, should this be applied to protected buildings, of which there are 50,000 to 60,000 in Switzerland. This works out to 2% to 2.5% of all Swiss buildings.

"We oppose the installation of solar panels on heritage buildings such as the Grossmünster Zurich's cathedral," says Adrian Schmid, the SHS" general manager. Schmid also points out that because of the small roof surfaces of the historic buildings in Zurich's Old Town, "installing solar panels on them would actually not be energy efficient."

Read the full story in German by Stefan Häne

Photo – vauvau

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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