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Switzerland

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)


*NEWSBITES

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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Society

Colombia Celebrates Its Beloved Drug For The Ages, Coffee

This essential morning drink for millions worldwide was once considered an addictive menace, earning itself a ban on pain of death in the Islamic world.

Colombia's star product: coffee beans.

Julián López de Mesa Samudio

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — October 1st is International Coffee Day. Recently it seems as if every day of the calendar year commemorates something — but for Colombia, coffee is indeed special.

For almost a century now we have largely tied our national destiny, culture and image abroad to this drink. Indeed it isn't just Colombia's star product, it became through the course of the 20th century the world's favorite beverage — and the most commonly used drug to boost work output.

Precisely for its stimulating qualities — and for being a mild drug — coffee was not always celebrated, and its history is peppered with the kinds of bans, restrictions and penalties imposed on the 'evil' drugs of today.

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