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ENERGY

‘Restrictions and bans’: What to know about Switzerland’s new energy crisis plan

While the issue of power outages is not new and has been debated by the authorities before, the Federal Council has announced the steps it would take if energy becomes scarce in Switzerland.

‘Restrictions and bans’: What to know about Switzerland’s new energy crisis plan
The government will do whatever is necessary to prevent blackouts. Photo by Oleksandr GIMANOV / AFP

Officials have been hinting that the much-feared shortage of gas, which is used to generate electricity, is not a realistic scenario for Switzerland.

“For this winter, the good news is that the risk of a gas shortage remains relatively low,” Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said earlier in November.

While Switzerland relies heavily on foreign sources, Parmelin pointed out that “in the countries around us, stocks are between 95 and 100 percent full. The Swiss gas industry has also done its job by reserving its 15 percent [of gas] abroad.”

However, the government is preparing for the “worst-case” scenario, such as a serious energy shortage that would impact private households and essential industries alike. On Wednesday, it announced its plan, which the cantons have to respond to by December 12th.

“If a shortage should nevertheless occur, the Federal Council will regulate the electricity supply by means of time-limited measures in order to preserve the stability of the network and to secure the supply. Each level of measures aims to avoid more serious consequences, which would require more drastic measures,” authorities said.

What steps will the government take?

“In the event of a serious electricity shortage, the measures would be adapted to the severity of the shortage and the concrete situation, before the ordinances come into force,” the Federal Council noted.

First: urgent calls to consumers

In case of an imminent shortage, authorities “would first issue urgent calls to reduce consumption to all electricity consumers,” the government said, adding that “at the same time, the Federal Council could decree initial restrictions and bans on use”.

The Federal Council could decree initial restrictions and bans on use.

“These would be tightened in stages, from the drop in the level of comfort (bans on lighting objects, for example) to more restrictive measures (closure of establishments),” authorities said. 

The government’s goal is to implement measures that target the concrete cases, depending on the supply situation, weather conditions, and the consequences for the economy and the population.

Essential goods and services, however, would be preserved “as much as possible.”

READ MORE: Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

Second : Electricity quota for large consumers

A more restrictive measure — quotas — would be imposed on consumers with an annual consumption of at least 100 megawatt hours (MWh). The quota would affect more than 34,000 large entities, such as companies, who are responsible for almost half of the current consumption in Switzerland.

“Targeting this group of consumers offers significant savings potential,” the Federal Council said.

The quota would be set for a day or a month, depending on the overall situation.

“For winter 2023/2024, a solution will be developed for companies with sites on different distribution networks, so that they can be subject to the same quota throughout Switzerland.”

READ MORE : What are Switzerland’s new heating rules if there’s an energy shortage?

Third : Load shedding

This last-resort solution is the regulated measure to prevent the widespread network from collapsing and causing a blackout.

However, consumer groups providing vital services, such as power and water supply facilities, emergency response and basic medical care, could be exempted from load shedding to the extent that technical conditions allow it, which would rarely be the case, the Federal Council said.

Therefore, “power cuts would have far-reaching consequences for the economy and the population, and would be accompanied by restrictions with far-reaching consequences. This is why every effort is made to avoid them.”

You, as an individual or a household, can play a part in cutting energy consumption as well. This is how:

What the Swiss government is asking you to do to save energy
 

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ENERGY

What are Switzerland’s new heating rules if there’s an energy shortage?

Switzerland has announced a set of new temperature rules that would come into force if a gas shortage happens this winter. Here's what you should know.

What are Switzerland's new heating rules if there's an energy shortage?

What’s happening?

The Federal Council unveiled draft plans on Wednesday on rules that could come into force if there’s a severe shortage of gas in Switzerland. 

Under the measures, the temperature inside buildings heated with natural gas would be limited to a maximum of 20C.

It comes after initial recommendations that the government issued in September aimed at preventing shortages called for the max temperature to be set at 19C.

The operation of radiant heaters or high-pressure cleaners could also be banned in the event of an energy shortage, while water heating in private households would be limited to 60C.

Will there be a gas shortage this winter?

The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) says it is impossible to predict and depends on the weather and geopolitical factors.

However, speaking at a press conference in Bern on Wednesday, Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said people should not be alarmed because “the risk of a gas shortage during the winter of 2022-2023 is rather low”.

Regardless, everyone in the country is being urged to save energy.

In August this year Swiss authorities announced that they would align themselves with the EU in its goal to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent during the winter months – October to the end of March – compared with average annual consumption.

As soon as there is a real risk of shortage, “calls to reduce consumption will be made”, the Federal Council said at the time. 

READ ALSO: What the Swiss government is asking you to do to save energy

What is the current situation regarding the gas supply in Switzerland?

Switzerland’s natural gas supply is secure. Currently, all domestic pipeline capacities as well as import and export capacities are available without restriction. Russia’s war on Ukraine currently has no direct impact on Switzerland’s gas supply, with the exception of the sharp rise in prices.

When should you turn on your radiator?

When should you turn on your radiator? Photo by Umberto on Unsplash

Why are no measures being issued yet?

The draft rules are based on the National Supply Act – this allows for strong interventions in the event of a severe shortage of vital goods. However, these provisions cannot be enacted now, as Switzerland’s supply is secure.

What could be banned in the event of a gas shortage?

The proposals contain various measures, however this doesn’t mean that all of them will be put into effect if a shortage occurs. Under the draft measures, the following could be banned:

  • the heating of unused rooms
  • the heating of swimming pools, steam baths and saunas
  • the operation of radiant heaters, warm air curtains, gas fires and high-pressure cleaners
  • As mentioned above, a maximum of 20C would be allowed in indoor rooms

These bans would apply to businesses as well as private households. Hospitals and other health and care facilities are exempt from the rules. 

READ ALSO: When should I turn on my heating in Switzerland this year?

How can the Federal Council impose regulations on private households?

Swiss private households account for over 40 percent of total gas consumption. So the government says it isn’t possible to significantly reduce consumption without a contribution from households. Moreover, in the event of a grid collapse, private households would no longer be supplied.

“Tenants are responsible for maintaining the temperature if they can regulate it themselves, as are owners of residential property,” said the Federal Council.

How would these bans be controlled?

The Swiss government says it would rely on personal responsibility overall. 

“The aim is not to have police officers going from home to home with a thermometer,” said Parmelin on Wednesday. 

However, there could be random heating checks in the event of a critical shortage. The cantons are responsible for monitoring compliance with these bans, and it is up to the respective cantons to decide whether checks are carried out.

Are fines planned?

Ministers are looking into this. 

“Violations of this obligation will be prosecuted in accordance with the National Utilities Act (LVG),” said the Federal Council in a statement.

“The EAER will examine the possibilities of regulatory fines for violations of the LVG and inform the Federal Council at the end of January 2023.”

Do the regulations only apply to buildings that are heated with gas?

Yes, the regulations would only apply to homes and businesses heating with gas. As long as there is still enough heating oil, there is no reason and no legal basis to restrict heating with oil, according to the Economic Ministry. 

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