Switzerland to build emergency power plants to help avoid blackouts

Switzerland to build emergency power plants to help avoid blackouts

As residents of Switzerland continue to follow the energy-saving plan put forward by the Federal Council,  the Swiss government has announced plans to create a series of emergency power plants by February 2023. The Federal Electricity Commission told reporters that there is a critical risk of an energy shortage this winter.

Switzerland remains threatened by energy shortage

Like the rest of Europe, the war in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions have made gas supplies from Russia to Switzerland far less frequent or guaranteed. As the alpine nation uses natural gas for around 15 percent of total energy production, and most of the gas is sent through Germany - which used to source the majority of its gas from Russia and is trying to stockpile gas itself - the threat of an energy shortage in the country is acute. 

At a press conference on October 19, the President of the Federal Electricity Commission, Werner Luginbühl, told Swissinfo that the situation remains critical, predicting that Switzerland will have to use some type of emergency energy supply by the second half of this winter. He concluded that Switzerland will need to rely on power-saving measures and good weather to get through the winter with enough power.

Swiss hydroelectric reserves to be filled to combat shortages

At the press conference, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga announced that Switzerland will be increasing its ability to produce energy domestically, to help avoid blackouts this winter. She said that while current gas reserves in Europe are plentiful, the alpine nation needs to become more self-reliant in the event that supplies are hoarded or run out.

To ease the threat of blackouts, the Federal Council has announced plans to increase hydropower capacity. This will be achieved by filling up dams in the mountains while energy is plentiful, and expanding hydroelectric dams’ capacity, such as by heightening dam walls. Over the next four years, keeping the hydropower reserve will cost around 2,2 billion Swiss francs.

Emergency reserve power plants to be built in Switzerland

Alongside this, Sommaruga said that the government will be investing in “reserve power plants” which should be able to provide up to 1.000 megawatts of power each. The plants will be paid a fixed sum to remain in operation, and any of the energy used during the crisis will be reimbursed at the market price. 

However, all the power generated by the emergency plants will be sent to the national grid, not traded on the open market. The reserve plants are expected to be run on oil or gas but are ordered to offset the CO2 emissions of any power they generate. The Federal Councillor predicted that the reserve plants should be fully operational by February 2023 at the earliest, and will cost 580 million francs to build. 

To facilitate the speed of construction, the government has proposed relaxing planning permission relating to noise and air pollution. Already, a new power plant is being built in Birr, Canton Aargau, which should be up and running next February.

Swiss Federal Council encourages people to save power

Concluding the conference, Sommaruga emphasised the importance of sticking to the energy-saving measures already announced, noting that “reducing the heating by one degree saves 6 percent of electricity.” According to Swissinfo, she said there was still enormous pressure to get reserves running in time. The plans will now be subject to a public consultation until November 23.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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