Electricity shortages cannot be ruled out this winter, Swiss government says
In its latest report, the Federal Electricity Commission (Elcom) has said that the threat of electricity shortages in Switzerland "is not excluded" from forecasts this winter. The threat of power outages has forced the government to create an emergency power plan, in which blackouts are the last resort.
Threat of energy shortages blamed on high power prices in Europe
According to Elcom, the threat of the lights going out has arisen due to the “unique and historic rise” in the price of energy in Switzerland and the EU. The commission explained that this isn't to do with the war in Ukraine, instead citing the fact that France, one of the main exporters of power to Switzerland, has been forced to periodically close more than half of its nuclear power plants in recent years due to corrosion.
Switzerland usually has to import around four terawatt-hours of electricity during the winter months. Elcom noted that the lack of storage capacity for alternative energy sources has made the country highly vulnerable to seasonal price rises abroad.
Micheal Wider, President of the Association of Swiss Electric Companies (AES), said, “[Even] Germany wants to import electricity from us in winter, but we have a winter shortage ourselves.” AES director Micheal Frank noted, “Over the past 50 years, a power shortage situation has never been more realistic than now.”
Switzerland's emergency energy plan revealed
In 2020, the federal government rated an electricity shortage as the “greatest danger” Switzerland faces, ahead of COVID-19. According to Lukas Küng from the Federal Office of Supply, the government would respond in three steps in an emergency.
First, the Swiss parliament would encourage Swiss citizens and businesses to reduce the amount of energy they use. Failing this, the government would enact strict quotas and restrictions on energy consumption, such as stopping “the operation of saunas and ski lifts.”
In a worst-case scenario, Küng said that “network operators [would] cyclically cut off certain districts for a certain period, according to well-defined plans.” As this would only happen in extreme cases, "No one should panic," he clarified.
How likely are energy shortages in Switzerland?
Alongside emergency plans, the government is currently drafting a scheme designed to rescue energy providers in the event of a price hike. Micheal Frank estimated that Switzerland would likely face an energy shortage this winter if the hydropower output from Swiss lakes and rivers is reduced due to dry weather, a gas embargo is placed on Europe by Putin or if France's nuclear power stations go offline again.