A total of 336 megawatts of power from the reserve plants will be available for use next winter, according to a government press releaseExternal link.
The latest contract concerns the existing Thermatel plant in Monthey, canton Valais. It currently supplies 40 megawatts of power, but this will be boosted to 50 megawatts in September. This natural gas-fired power station is under contract until spring 2026, but it will only be operated in emergencies.
Faced with the current energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the government has taken various steps to strengthen Switzerland’s power reserves, it says. These include hydropower reserves and reserve power stations.
Two more agreements have already been reached for reserve power stations. A 250 MW power station is being built in Birr, canton Aargau, but it is behind schedule and will not be operational until the end of March.
In canton Neuchâtel, the Cornaux plant has been available since February 1. It has a capacity of 36 megawatts and has not yet been used.
The proposal was made during a meeting between German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck and the Swiss economics and environment ministers, Guy Parmelin and Albert Rösti, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Monday.
A bilateral gas solidarity agreement between Germany and Switzerland was first mooted during a meeting at WEF last May. The aim of the agreement was to prepare for any emergency situations, for examples critical infrastructure like hospitals suffering a severe gas shortage.
Rather, given that gas also makes its way to Germany and Switzerland via Italy, Habeck suggested bringing the southern European country into the deal, making it a matter of solidarity between the north and south of Europe.
On Monday in Davos, however, Habeck reiterated that “Germany will always show solidarity”, but that this had its limits. As Swiss public television SRF put itExternal link, Germany is not prepared to simply turn off the gas for its own industries in order to help out Swiss households and hospitals.
The Swiss government wroteExternal link that the outstanding issues in the gas sector can be “clarified at a technical level” and that as such “there is no need for a bilateral solidarity agreement between Germany and Switzerland”. Rösti told media in Davos that Switzerland “understood the German request”.
Rösti also said that Germany’s wish to widen the deal to include Italy has no connection with Switzerland’s stalled negotiations with the EU.
The ministers from both Switzerland and Germany said that the gas supply situation was more stable than last year, and that the pressure to take emergency measures was somewhat less high.
As of January 1, Cinémathèque Suisse has not been holding public screenings on Mondays in a move it said was in response to the energy crisis and the efforts requested by both federal and local authorities to save electricity.
“The only action that could be taken quickly was to close the theatres for one day, which is the least severe measure for the public's enjoyment,” Frédéric Maire, director of Cinémathèque Suisse, told Swiss news agency Keystone-ATS. Monday was chosen because it is less frequented than other days. The measure is “on trial” and will last at least until the summer.
The closure is not only intended to reduce energy use during the day but also to avoid energy shortages at night, which is when films are downloaded ahead of screenings.
Planning for cuts
Cinémathèque Suisse has also developed scenarios to anticipate possible power cuts and enable it to continue its activities. Priority has been given to the “physical” film collections, which must be stored at a certain temperature and humidity level, as well as to the digital archives stored on different servers.
The film archive has 6,000 m2 of surface cooled to different degrees. While much of the archive is underground, there is a cooling cost.
Cinémathèque suisse has also commissioned a carbon footprint assessment of its locations in Lausanne, Penthaz and Zurich to identify ways to save electricity and use more renewable resources.
“The challenges are as great as the stakes: to ensure both the preservation of our cinematographic heritage and the future of our planet, for future generations,” wrote Cinémathèque in a press releaseExternal link on December 27.
Founded in 1948, the Cinémathèque suisse is recognised by the International Federation of Film Archives as one of the ten most prominent film archives in the world for the extent, diversity and quality of its collections. In addition to the 85,000 fiction and documentary films preserved, the Cinémathèque suisse’s holdings include thousands of hours of filmed material, the archives of the Swiss Ciné-Journal, as well as millions of posters, photographs, scripts, documentary files, books and periodicals, sets and film objects.
“There is a high probability that we will get through this winter without a shortage,” Elcom head Urs Meister told Swiss public broadcaster SRF on Thursday.
“The most important factor is the relatively high temperatures this winter. As a result, significantly less gas is being consumed and gas storage facilities in Europe are far less depleted than in previous years.”
The SonntagsZeitung reports that Switzerland is now home to 86 data centres; only the Netherlands has a higher rate per capita in Europe.
The paper cites a 2021 study by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts estimating that the energy usage of Swiss data centres will double in the next five years, mirroring trends worldwide.
“Politicians generally underestimate this development,” Professor Adrian Altenburger of the Lucerne University told the newspaper. “The power needs of these centres are going to massively increase in the coming years.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) meanwhile estimated that in 2021 data centres gobbled up 1% of global electricity. In Ireland, home to various big tech firms, such centres account for 14% of national usage, a figure which could increase to 27% by 2029.
With many countries unable to supply clean energy to power the centres, they can also play a role in environmental damage, the SonntagsZeitung writes. The IEA reckons they already account for as much CO2 emissions as the entire aviation industry.
In Switzerland, where much electricity comes from hydro, the climate footprint of the data centres can be kept somewhat better in check, the paper writes. Nevertheless, Altenburger wants authorities to adapt the building requirements for such centres in order to ensure a maximum in energy efficiency.
Plans for first Swiss liquefied gas terminal mooted
An industry association is planning to build Switzerland's first terminal for liquified gas in a bid to diversify the transport of gas supplies and reduce the dependence on pipelines.
This content was published on December 25, 2022 minutes
A consortium of 15 local gas works, active mainly in northwestern Switzerland, said it was going to build a facility near the city of Basel to store containers of liquified natural gas (LNG) and feed it into the grid, according to a report in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.
The terminal for 150 containers a year could be operational next winter for shipments via railways, roads or the river Rhine, the director of the Gasverbund Mittelland association, Rolf Samer, is quoted as saying.
The plant will open up a new supply chain as an alternative to the pipelines that lead to Switzerland from the surrounding countries.
Plans are also afoot to build a third major gas-fired power plant nearby.
Shareholders and customers of the gas industry association have expressed an interest in the plans pending approval by the board of directors, according to Samer.
The Swiss government has agreed to build up to three gas power plants to prevent a potential energy shortage.
However, environmental organisations have come out against new gas power stations.
Switzerland will embrace on a voluntary basis the goal of reducing electricity consumption by 10% from January to March 2023 as well as in November and December 2023 - compared to the average of the last five years -, according to a government statement on Wednesday.
From January to March 2023, power consumption during peak times is to fall by 5%.
"It makes sense for Switzerland to voluntarily join the EU's electricity consumption reduction targets. This measure has a dampening effect on wholesale electricity prices. It also strengthens the security of supply," the government said.
It will not adopt most other EU measures, such as a levy on surplus profits in the fossil fuel sector, it added, confirming its view from last month that no action was needed given the economic situation and lower inflation than in other countries.
The government is planning to introduce regulations for the gas industry to prevent shortages in the next winter.
The legislation, to take effect next July, is aimed at regulating financial aspects and give the authorities access to data a gas and electricity supplies, according to a statement by the energy ministry.
The government on Wednesday also took note of a report about Switzerland's long-term electricity supplies. The study concluded that major supply bottlenecks could be avoided until 2040 if domestic hydropower production and import capacities complement each other.
The study authors found that the European electricity supply system will become increasingly dependent on weather conditions with the expansion of renewable energies.
University tool calculates carbon footprint of electricity mix
The Swiss university of Geneva has put online a platform that allows consumers to track the variations in the composition of the electricity mix used and to calculate the carbon footprint.
This content was published on December 20, 2022 minutes
The university said the tool, called horocarbon, can measure electricity consumption for every hour of the day which is crucial to quantify the environmental impact and thereby create greater transparency.
The virtual meter, which is fed by Swiss and foreign production data, is aimed at citizens as well as scientists and politicians, the university said in a statement on Monday.
It also serves as an interactive tool to assess the environmental impact of personal consumption and that of certain electrical appliances (fridge, computer, dishwasher).
Nuclear and hydro
In Europe, the electricity sector is responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. In Switzerland, where electricity is mainly produced by nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, it accounts for less than 2% of these emissions.
However, a large part of this electricity is exported to neighbouring countries, especially in summer when there is a surplus of electricity.
To meet its needs, Switzerland relies on a mix of domestic and imported energy. The latter accounts for around 11% of annual consumption, and can be much higher in winter.
"The measurement of CO2 emissions from the electricity sector is generally based on the principle of production accounting: these emissions are attributed to the geographical area where they were generated. This approach does not reflect the real carbon impact of a country's consumption, since it does not take into account emissions linked to imports, which are very carbon-intensive in the case of Switzerland," Geneva University's Elliot Romano is quoted in the press release.
The Federal Office of Energy said that the current online tool didn't yet provide reliable data on current savings in electricity and gas consumption, but the so-called Energy Dashboard SwitzerlandExternal link would be updated in the coming weeks.
The supply situation for electricity and natural gas is currently "tense" but "guaranteed", according to the portal. Due to lower supplies from Russia to Europe, the supply of gas is "tight". With regard to electricity consumption, the situation in France in particular remains "uncertain". This refers to the limited electricity production from nuclear power in the neighbouring country.
However, the available data is incomplete and should be handled carefully, according to project leader Matthias Galus. The portal could still help raise public awareness of the situation, he added.
Currently the office provides data on electricity consumption, production and electricity imports from neighbouring countries from the previous day. Real-time data is not available, which is why a model has to be used to estimate consumption based on the past, officials said.
There are fears that electricity and gas could become scarce at the end of the winter due to the energy crisis in Europe following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Without a massive acceleration of sustainable energy development, a substantial increase in efficiency, targeted transformation and expansion of the networks and a close exchange of energy with Europe, Switzerland will not achieve its energy and climate goals, the reportExternal link concludes.
Transformation of the energy supply by 2050 will need, among other things, a high level of acceptance of the new infrastructure and close cooperation with the European Union, it says.
The "Energy Future 2050" study, carried out in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, presents four scenarios for achieving the targets. This is the first scientific model to simulate the entire energy system in Switzerland up to 2050.
Winter energy woes cast shadow over Swiss ski season
Swiss ski resorts are gearing up for their biggest winter season since the Covid-19 pandemic. But soaring power prices in the wake of the Ukraine war have resort managers scrambling to find ways to save energy.
This content was published on December 5, 2022 minutes
Born in London, Simon is a multimedia journalist who has worked for www.swissinfo.ch since 2006. He speaks French, German and Spanish and focuses on science, technology and innovation issues.
The first ski slopes opened in the Swiss Alps in early November thanks to fresh snow in high-mountain regions.
After two winters of Covid restrictions, tourism officials have expressed guarded optimism about this season. The number of hotel stays should rise by 1% compared to the pre-pandemic level thanks to the return of foreign visitors (+18% expected compared to last year), Switzerland Tourism said in late November.
Three-quarters of businesses in the Swiss Alps therefore expect to reach pre-crisis turnover levels, a recent survey by Hotelleriesuisse, the hotel industry association, revealed.
Despite this renewed optimism, spiralling energy prices have replaced Covid as the dark cloud on the horizon.
“The main challenge is energy prices, which represent a huge headache for all service providers who already operate with very small margins,” explained Switzerland Tourism spokesperson Véronique Kanel.
The vast majority (70%) of Alpine hotels are major consumers of electricity, gas and oil. Energy accounted for 3% of hotel owners’ costs in 2021 – this year it’s 5%. As a result, around half of those who took part in the poll say they face serious financial difficulties.
It’s a big dilemma for many owners, said Kanel: “They have to either reduce their energy consumption or increase prices.”
The survey revealed that three-quarters of hotels had put up winter prices by 5%. But one in ten hotels planned to increase them by over 10%. The main reason cited is the higher energy prices, but additional staff costs are also a factor. There is currently an acute shortage of skilled hotel workers and competition for employees is resulting in higher wages. Food has also become more expensive for hotels.
Owners have also been exploring ways to save energy, such as installing energy-efficient lighting and turning down radiators.
“The season got off to a good start in terms of early sales of ski passes and attendance at ski resorts that are already open,” said Berno Stoffel, director of the Swiss Cable Car Association.
But rising energy prices, which represented 7-9% of turnover last year, are giving lift managers grey hairs.
The answer, says the association, is a raft of voluntary savings measures, which could reduce energy use by around 5%. Slowing ski lifts, slashing operating hours and lowering the heating in lifts and buildings were cited as the most effective ideas, some of which are already being implemented in resorts like Verbier and Saas-Fee.
The association says it expects Swiss lift pass prices to increase by 3% on average to compensate. “Few [ski resorts] expect an increase of more than 5%,” it told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper.
Snow cannons under scrutiny
With the country and businesses bracing for higher power bills, the use of snow cannons has also been in the media spotlight. Critics say they damage the environment and waste energy. The actual snow cannon costs CHF50,000 ($52,900), but added to this is the cost of the underground pipes for water and air and other infrastructure, and electricity.
“One cubic metre of snow costs an estimated five to eight Swiss francs,” Björn Luginbühl, head of technology at Adelboden Mountain Railways, told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. The 20,000 cubic metres of snow needed to prepare Adelboden's Chuenisbärgli ski run, for example, cost over CHF100,000.
In total, Swiss ski areas – lifts, snow cannons and catering services – need an estimated 183 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity a year, or the equivalent consumption of 30,000-40,000 households, according to the cable car association.
Stoffel downplays the impact of skiing on Switzerland’s overall energy bill. Cable cars and drag lifts only represent 0.24% of the country’s annual consumption, while snow-making facilities account for 0.1%, he insists.
Peter Richner, an energy expert at the Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), concurred.
“A study showed that snowmaking in a medium-sized ski area uses about the same amount of electricity as an indoor swimming pool,” he told Swiss public radio SRF.
The cable car association argues that without snow cannons there would be no slopes. They guarantee an initial snow base before Christmas and thus contribute towards the estimated CHF5 billion ($5.65 billion) a year that winter tourism generates in Switzerland.
The winter tourism sector has been under scrutiny by federal authorities as they worry how to deal with possible electricity shortages. In late November Economics Minister Guy Parmelin finally presented a step-by-step plan, which would come into effect should there be a serious lack of electricity in the country.
Ski resort managers will have breathed a collective sigh of relief to learn that they would only have to switch off snow-making systems and close ski lifts in the event of a dramatic shortage as a final, last-resort option – “to be avoided at any cost”, says the economics minister.
Strommangellage (energy shortage), boycotter (to boycott), penuria (shortage) and mancanza (shortage) are the Words of the Year for 2022 in Switzerland’s four national languages.
“Electricity, which was seemingly always available, could suddenly be in short supply,” said the Department of Applied Linguistics at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), which announced the winners on Tuesday.
“The situation is uncertainExternal link. Switzerland is networked and enmeshed in the European electricity market, but import volumes are currently not guaranteed. The war in Ukraine, the only tentative use of solar energy and climate change further aggravate the situation. Despite emergency scenarios, it could be a dark, cold winter in Swiss living rooms,” it said in a statementExternal link.
Strommangellage was followed by Schutzstatus S and Frauen-Ticket. The protection status S, activated for the first time ever this year, allows Ukrainian refugees to live and work in Switzerland for a year with an option to extend if necessary.
In the French-speaking part of the country the jury opted for the verb boycotter.
“In 2022, calls for boycotts in a wide range of areas have been increasing,” the jury noted. “In sport, we have seen boycotts of the Beijing Olympics and – as we speak – the football World Cup in Qatar. In politics, there have been calls to boycott elections, deliberately using the term to replace abstention, which is guilty of evoking resignation. It has also been possible to boycott a country, a project and – of course – all sorts of products, such as meat.”
In Italian-speaking Ticino and Romansh-speaking eastern Switzerland, penuria and mancanza were the jury’s first choices respectively.
“It is to be hoped that a greater awareness will emerge from this reflection that resources (water, raw materials, etc.) are not infinite and therefore a change in our relationship with the environment and nature must take place,” the panel concluded.
How is the Word of the Year selected?
The Department of Applied Linguistics at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW in Winterthur has been responsible for the Word of the Year since 2017 (2019 for Romansch). It analyses the Swiss discourse database Korpus Swiss-AL and determines for each language the words that were used more frequently or significantly differently in 2021 than in previous years.
A jury of language professionals then selects the three most distinctive words from this list, from suggestions from the audience and from their own experience. The four juries each consist of around ten linguists from German-, French-, Italian- and Romansh-speaking Switzerland.
The reserve plant was ordered by the governmentExternal link in September in response to potential power shortages this winter. It will have eight turbines fitted out to operate with gas, oil or hydrogen.
The temporary back-up facility, costing CHF460 million ($485 million), is slated to remain in place in Birr until 2026. Once operational, it will generate around a quarter of the energy provided by the Leibstadt nuclear power plant.
Like many European countries, Switzerland is facing the prospect of power shortages, primarily as a result of Russia restricting gas imports following its invasion of Ukraine.
The first gas turbines have already been delivered to the Birr plant and will be connected next month in readiness for testing, GE said.
The government has toned down environmental and noise restrictions for the plant as it is deemed of vital importance to energy security.
The move comes amid calls by the government for people and businesses to "save, save, save” when it comes to energy amid possible winter shortages due to the war in Ukraine.
In Zurich, the traditional “Lucy” Christmas lights in the city’s prestigious Bahnhofstrasse shopping street – which were officially illuminated on November 24 – will be switched on from dusk to 10pm, so 3.5 hours less per day than previously.
In a statementExternal link, the organisers said that they wanted to “set an example” in this time of threatened electricity shortages, even if energy savings were in this case low.
Other towns and cities around the countries have said they would switch off the Christmas lights overnight or find alternatives. Lucerne is for example using 500 candle lanterns in the city.
There are effects on other traditional Advent activities as well: in the Swiss capital Bern, the traditional ice rink in front of the parliament building will this year be made out of hard plastic rather than “the energy-intensive” real ice, the Bern city authorities saidExternal link.
In Geneva’s Jardin anglais, the Christmas chalets are being powered by biogas, and in Lausanne, the organisers of the Bô Noël, the city’s Christmas markets, have stated that they want to reduce energy use by 20%.
The Montreux Christmas Market, one of the most well-known in French-speaking Switzerland, has also indicated that it wants to be “as responsible as possible” to act as “an example” for its half a million visitors, its director Yves Cornaro told Keystone-ATS. It is aiming to save 20% - 30% energy compared with last year.
But Cornaro nevertheless said that the event should keep its “magic”. A Christmas market completely without lights was for him, “not possible”.
A week after giving details of how an eventual gas shortage would be handled, Economics Minister Guy Parmelin was back on Wednesday with another set of scenarios – this time about possible electricity shortages.
While such a situation remains theoretical, the government is reacting to concerns about the conflict in Ukraine, the disruption to international energy markets, and the ongoing lack of an electricity agreement between Switzerland and European Union.
In case of a shortage, the first stages of response would combine appeals to reduce usage with certain restrictions, such as limiting advertising lighting during the night, adapting commercial opening hours, or banning some sporting or cultural events.
Another step would see rationing for big electricity users: that is, the 34,000 users who together consume 50% of all electricity in Switzerland. This option, which so far includes no exceptions, could last for up to a month, the plan statesExternal link.
The final, last resort option – “to be avoided at any cost”, Parmelin said – would see rotating outages in order to maintain the stability of the grid, but with efforts made to avoid any impact on critical infrastructure, emergency services, or hospitals.
Calls to save
The proposed measures – which are much more specific than those for the gas sector – would only come into effect if current efforts to shore up the country’s energy and electricity stability fail, Parmelin said.
He reiterated a call for citizens and businesses to “save, save, save” when it comes to energy.
The package of measures will be discussed by cantons and business representatives before the government comes up with a final draft. The consultation period runs until December 12.
Europe’s gas storage facilities only cover half of winter demand and have to be constantly refilled, Elcom President Werner Luginbühl told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Monday.
It is important to be cautious and for Switzerland to keep saving electricity to prevent energy shortages this winter, he added.
“Every kilowatt hour that we save today protects our reservoirs and gas storage facilities abroad,” said Luginbühl.
“The precautionary principle is still appropriate… There are still incalculable risks, for example, periods of cold weather or attacks on the energy infrastructure. The situation can change again quickly.”
Like other European countries, Switzerland faces the prospects of power shortages during the winter, primarily due to Russia restricting gas supplies amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Overall, however, the energy supply situation in Switzerland has eased thanks to sufficient rain in October and mild temperatures throughout autumn. Hydroelectric dam reservoirs (hydropower provides over half of the country’s electricity) in Switzerland are now stocked well above average, and there has been less need to heat homes and other buildings.
In addition, Germany's last three nuclear power plants should continue to run over winter and France plans to bring repaired nuclear power plants back online faster than previously announced, Luginbühl noted.
“Everyone should consider what they would do in the event of a blackout lasting several hours,” Luginbühl told NZZ am Sonntag. “It is certainly advisable to have enough candles in the house. Those who have a wood stove should also make sure they have enough firewood.”
Today, he denies that he was too alarmist. “In the summer we communicated and acted on the basis of what was known at the time,” he told Tages-Anzeiger.
The Swiss authorities have put in place a raft of measures to prepare for possible energy shortages this winter. In August the government launched a campaignExternal link encouraging the population not to waste energy. The same month it introduced a voluntary gas savings schemeExternal link in a bid to reduce demand from households and industry by 15%. Measures are also in place to boost water reserves at hydropower plants and to increase gas storage facilities. The government also plans to create reserve power plants.
The contingency scenario agreed by ministers is a slightly modified version of a four-stage plan announced in August, which has since gone through a consultation process involving cantonal authorities and other stakeholders.
In the initial plan, for example, the temperature limit was planned at 19°C, and the contribution to be made by private households was less marked.
On Wednesday the government saidExternal link that without the contribution of households, which account for some 40% of gas used in the country, reducing usage significantly would not be possible. As for the raising of the maximum temperature from 19°C to 20°C, this was based on the premise that 20°C was an easier number both to measure and to set.
Failure to respect the limit would be punished, but authorities are still exploring options as to how this would work. Economics Minister Guy Parmelin said on Wednesday that the goal was not to send police around to every apartment with thermometers, and that the responsibility of citizens would be called upon in case of a shortage.
Other measures were also finalised, including a decision not to grant exceptions from emergency rationing plans. In scenarios involving a sudden outage of gas, rationing might have to be introduced immediately, and for a period of 24 hours, the government said; this could be extended up to several weeks if necessary.
Ultimately however, as for the likelihood of a severe shortage, “this can’t be predicted and depends on meteorological and especially geopolitical factors”, the executive wrote. For his part, Parmelin said the risk remained – for this winter at least – “relatively low”.
The generators are generally used by municipalities or companies, for example to supply electricity to drinking water pumps or computer centres in the event of a breakdown in the public network.
The installation must meet certain criteria in terms of capacity (ideally more than 1 MW), be able to be operated in parallel with the grid (when it is connected to the grid), and have a sufficient fuel reserve to operate for 24 to 48 hours, according to a government statement on Wednesday.
The government also said it is considering plans to build gas storage tanks to avoid an energy crunch in Switzerland.
Parliament has been requested to approve an additional credit worth CHF31.5 million ($31.8 million) to finance the consolidation of the emergency power units, the connection to Swissgrid's electricity market processes and compensation for operational readiness.
About CHF10 million will be used to cover the costs of additional noise protection measures for a reserve power plant at Birr, about 30km west of Zurich.
The decision is the latest taken by the government to secure the country's energy supply, including hydroelectric reserves, increasing the capacity of the electricity transmission network, a rescue mechanism for systemically important electricity companies, and temporary reduction of residual flows.
Last month, an alliance of companies, government, cantons, civil society and municipalities An energy saving campaign was launched a campaign in an effort to preserve gas and electricity supplies over the winter.
Neither the economic situation nor inflation justify extraordinary relief measures, the cabinet said in a statementExternal link on Wednesday. Instead, it discussed 13 support measures for private individuals and businesses.
Energy prices have fallen well below their highs at the end of August, and while inflation remained elevated at 3.3% in September this was still only around a third as high as in the eurozone, it said.
A panel of government experts has lowered its forecast for GDP growth in 2023 to 1.1%, but does not forecast a recession barring a severe energy shortage, it added. It said it would continue to monitor the situation.
An interdepartmental working group of five departments and 12 federal offices proposed a total of 13 possible support measures: eight for companies affected by the high prices and five for private households.
Among various measures rejected was the possibility for companies to return from the free electricity market to the basic supply. The government had discussed several variants of such a step.
In recent weeks parliament has repeatedly called for relief for those particularly affected by inflation and high energy prices. In particular, the demand for full inflation compensation for invalidity and old-age pensions as well as supplementary and bridging benefits is on the table.
Industrial producers are more worried about a deficit of electricity than natural gas, a survey published Tuesday by the bank, Credit Suisse showed. Half of the firms polled are preparing for power outages while only a third are bracing for a lack of gas.
Amid the rising energy risk, a purchasing managers’ index among Swiss manufacturers dropped 2.2 points to 54.9 in October. That’s below the 55.9 reading forecast by economists but above the 50 threshold that separates growth from contraction.
The most popular step companies are taking to secure energy supplies is curbing consumption, followed by acquiring emergency generators or batteries. Other measures include installing solar panels.
Meanwhile, Credit Suisse chairman Axel Lehmann says the planned capital increase will make the lender "rock solid", while dismissing rumours of a takeover.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV in Hong Kong, he said that the bank wanted to stay independent.
The bank aims to become a wealth management-centric franchise, centered around entrepreneurs, wealthy clients, the chairman said, adding that it wants to grow in Latin America, Asia Pacific and Middle East markets.
The energy crisis is about to make your Swiss ski holiday more expensive
Swiss hotels and holiday apartments are raising their prices by around 5% this winter, largely due to higher energy prices. Ski passes are also likely to go up by a similar amount, a newspaper reports.
This content was published on October 30, 2022 minutes
According to a survey by the Hotelleriesuisse association, seenExternal link by NZZ am Sonntag, most Swiss hotels are planning to pass on the higher costs of electricity, gas and oil to their guests.
Three-quarters of all hotels expect to raise prices this winter compared to the previous year, the survey showed. On average, a Swiss hotel room will be 5% more expensive. But one in ten hotels that took part in the survey wants to increase prices by over 10%.
The main reason for the price increases are the higher energy prices but additional staff costs are also a factor. There is currently an acute shortage of skilled hotel workers and competition for employees is resulting in higher wages, NZZ writes. Food has also become more expensive for hotels.
The prices of Swiss holiday apartments also look set to increase this winter. The online rental firm E-Domizil told NZZ that the price of holiday homes will probably rise by around 4.5% this winter compared to last year. This is a much smaller increase than recent years. Between 2019 and 2022, private holiday home rentals rose by an average of 12% due to high demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Swiss Cable Car Association estimates a 3% rise for the cost of lift passes, as ski areas are heavily dependent on energy. “Few [ski resorts] expect an increase of more than 5%,” it told NZZ.
“It could be a very good season, but it could also end catastrophically - especially if Switzerland gets into an energy shortage,” declared Hotellerie-Suisse Director Claude Meier.
The Schweiz am Wochenende newspaper reportedExternal link on Saturday that a study by the Federal Office of Energy, the electricity operating company Swissgrid and the Federal Electricity Commission (Elcom) says bans on energy usage and restrictions should not be necessary to help the country get through the cold season.
The “System Adequacy” study, which has not yet been published, developed four scenarios for this winter. For three of them, Switzerland should get through winter without bans, quotas or network cuts due to a combination of energy-saving measures carried out by the population, and savings and reserves built up by the federal authorities.
The study says the electricity supply situation for this winter is tense but should be brought under control.
The biggest risk is for a gas shortage. But Switzerland should avoid major problems thanks to hydropower reserves and planned reserve power stations.
But winter 2023/2024 could be difficult, the report says. The situation could worsen because European gas storage reservoirs will probably be empty after winter, and it will be very difficult to refill them next summer.
The Swiss authorities have been preparing for possible energy shortages. In August the government launched a campaignExternal link encouraging the population not to waste energy amid the expected energy crunch linked to reduced supplies of oil and gas from Russia in the wake of its war in Ukraine.
In August the government also introduced a voluntary gas savings schemeExternal link in a bid to reduce demand from households and industry by 15%. Measures are in place to boost water reserves at hydropower plants and to increase gas storage facilities. Ten days ago the Swiss government put forward plansExternal link to create reserve power plants aimed at shoring up the country’s energy supplies during the winter.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) reportedExternal link on Friday on a quantitative model by two energy experts which analyses how the interplay between solar and hydropower in Switzerland could play out in the next years.
According to the estimates, new solar panels – specifically those in the high mountains, above the fog line – would produce most of their energy between February and May; precisely the period during which the level of Alpine reservoirs is sinking.
More solar energy in winter would thus allow the reservoirs to hold more water back for emergency shortages: concretely, the recently approved plans to speed up construction of large-scale Alpine solar parks could allow the reservoirs breathing space to save up to 3 terawatt hours per year, or 19 days of Swiss energy needs.
Using the solar energy when it is produced, then taking advantage of the natural storage capacity of the reservoirs, would also reduce the need to develop storage centres to deal with the unpredictable nature of solar energy, the study said. However, the authors also noted that the practice of hydroelectric companies using all available water in order to sell surplus electricity abroad would also have to stop in order for this strategy to be effective.
Alpine reservoirs are a key source – along with river power plants – of Swiss hydropower, which accounts for 57% of domestic electricity production. The reservoirs in particular are like “batteries” which can be loaded up for the winter, and then released according to the country’s needs, the NZZ writes.
The summer months are used to fill up the reservoirs, which reach capacity in October-November, before releasing energy gradually to reach their low point in April-May.
Earlier this week, Swiss mountain reservoirs were 85% full – 2.5 percentage points higher than the average for this time of year over the past two decades.
Energy crisis ‘will last many years’, says economics minister
Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin assumes the energy crisis will last several years. It is important, he says, not only to think about the winter, but to do everything to ensure that Switzerland produces more energy – that means more renewable energies and greater efficiency.
This content was published on October 22, 2022 minutes
In 2023 and 2024 Switzerland will still be dependent on oil and gas, Parmelin said in an interviewExternal link on Saturday with the CH media. After that, the situation would depend on how quickly Switzerland could expand its production.
Asked whether the government had prepared too little for a crisis, Parmelin admitted that in the case of energy the risks had been underestimated. “In recent decades Switzerland had relied too much on importing energy when in doubt,” he said.
The government had launched a campaign to save energy, he said, adding that the initial results were “satisfactory”. “The public has been made aware of the issue. Energy prices are still high. This helps to save money,” he said.
With regard to the energy shortage, Parmelin said that an ordinance was in place for gas. For electricity, experts said that before the end of March next year the risk of a shortage was very small. Ordinances for electricity should exist by the end of November.
He said the government wanted to use the time and work together with the associations to make the ordinances even more business friendly. After that, the draft would go into consultation and then the government would take its decision.
Parmelin also saw a danger that the energy crisis could lead to an economic crisis. Germany, Switzerland’s most important trading partner, is threatened by a recession, he said, which could have an impact on the Swiss economy.
On Wednesday the Swiss government put forward plansExternal link to create reserve power plants aimed at shoring up the country’s energy supplies during the winter. Like other European countries, Switzerland faces the prospects of power shortages, primarily due to Russia restricting gas supplies.
However, unlike previous years there will be no show on Mondays. “This saves us almost 15% energy,” explained organiser Brigitte Roux. In addition, the show uses the latest energy-saving generation of laser phosphor projectors, she said.
Removing the event from the programme was out of the question for the city of Bern. “That would have sent the wrong signal,” said local politician Reto Nause.
In previous years the light show, which is blasted onto the federal parliament building, usually attracted about 500,000 people. This autumn, the public can expect an imaginary journey to “Point Nemo”, the most remote point on earth. On board Jules Verne’s submarine Nautilus, visitors will discover the beauty of the ocean.
Rendez-vous BundesplatzExternal link has been held since 2011. In 2020 there were only a few screenings owing to the Covid pandemic. Last year a Covid certificate was needed for entry.
This year’s show will begin on Saturday. There will be three performances a day (apart from Mondays) at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm until November 26. Admission to the 30-minute show is free.
On Wednesday the Swiss government put forward plansExternal link to create reserve power plants aimed at shoring up the country’s energy supplies during the winter. Like other European countries, Switzerland faces the prospects of power shortages, primarily due to Russia restricting gas supplies.
On Wednesday, the government presented plans to create a network of reserve power stations. This complements a range of other measures, including an increase of hydropower capacity and emergency bailout funds for struggling power companies.
Officials say that water levels at hydropower plants are currently at normal levels, but the weather will have a say in how Switzerland copes with potential energy shortages in the coming months.
The proposal to create a network of reserve plants was presented on Wednesday for a period of public consultation that will end on November 18. This follows other measures, such as increasing capacity at hydropower plants, that have already been announced.
Like other European countries, Switzerland faces the prospects of power shortages during the winter, primarily due to Russia restricting gas supplies.
To alleviate the threat of blackouts, hydropower capacity will be increased. If this fails to plug any gaps, the Swiss government wants to establish reserve power plants, with up to a 1,000MW capacity, by February 2023.
These plants will be paid a fixed sum for participating in the scheme and compensation if their reserve power is used.
Such plants could run on gas or oil but must offset the CO2 they produce by taking part in emissions trading systems.
Permission has already been granted to build a new power plantExternal link in the northern Swiss town of Birr. The government proposes relaxing planning restrictions relating to noise and air pollution to help build up a network of reserve plants quickly.
Werner Luginbühl, President of the Federal Electricity Commission, told a press conference on Wednesday that the situation remains critical and that Switzerland may need good weather conditions to get through the winter with enough power.
Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga spoke of enormous time pressure to get reserves up and running.
Mountaintop solar farms spark tensions in Switzerland
Building large solar parks in high-mountain regions is arguably an effective way to produce more power in winter and accelerate the energy transition. But it remains controversial in Switzerland, where environmental groups have contested planned installations.
This content was published on October 17, 2022 minutes
Born in London, Simon is a multimedia journalist who has worked for www.swissinfo.ch since 2006. He speaks French, German and Spanish and focuses on science, technology and innovation issues.
Research shows that putting solar panels on mountaintops in the Swiss Alps could generate at least 16 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity a year, or almost half of the solar power the authorities aim to produce annually by 2050. Large mountain solar projects exist in some regions in China, and small solar parks can be found in the mountains in France and Austria. But big installations are currently rare in the Swiss Alps.
Panels are typically fitted to existing infrastructure such as mountain huts, ski lifts or dams, like at MuttseeExternal link in central Switzerland, 2,500 metres above sea level. The Alpine country currently gets 6% of its electricity from the sun.
Yet the climate crisis and urgency surrounding winter energy shortages are causing a fundamental rethink. This autumn a handful of parliamentarians led a solar offensive to simplify and speed up the construction of Alpine solar systems.
In parallel, new proposals have emerged to set up solar farms on pristine pastures. Two projects in the southern Swiss canton of Valais are in the spotlight: one above the village of Gondo, near the Simplon Pass, and a bigger scheme at Grengiols to the north.
The GondosolarExternal link project (see video below) involves the installation of 4,500 solar panels on ten hectares – 14 football pitches – of private land on a mountain close to the Swiss-Italian border. It would produce 23.3 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of electricity annually, or enough for at least 5,200 local homes, according to Renato Jordan, the promoter who owns the plot.
Jordan’s CHF42 million ($43 million) project has the backing of the Gondo-Zwischbergen municipality and the power company Alpiq but is hotly disputed. In August a group of environmental activists organised a small but noisy demo on the pasture at an altitude of 2,000 metres where it would be built.
“We totally agree about the potential of solar energy, but we think there’s huge potential on existing buildings and infrastructure,” Maren Kern, executive director of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland, told SWI swissinfo.ch. “We don’t see the need to go into these virgin undeveloped sites before you have used all the potential that is already there.”
According to the Federal Energy Office, fitting panels to existing building roofs and façades could provide 67 TWh of solar-powered electricity annually – well above the authorities’ goal of producing 34 TWh a year by 2050 (2.8 TWh was produced in 2021).
Pros and cons
Experts say Alpine solar parks offer certain advantages, mainly that most of the power would be produced in winter when supplies are critical.
“In the Alps you have a lot of sunshine, especially in winter, and you can produce solar energy above the clouds,” Christian Schaffner, executive director of the Energy Science Centre at federal technology institute ETH Zurich, told Swiss public television, SRF.
He added that solar panels are most efficient in the low temperatures of the high Alps and that two-sided panels can be fixed upright to catch more rays bouncing off the snow and ice.
But there are still many unknowns regarding Alpine solar farms, especially the costs, economic benefits and suitable locations.
Gondosolar promoters estimate their project would produce twice as much electricity per square metre as a comparable facility in the lowlands.
They argue that their solar park is not planned in a protected area or at risk of natural hazards such as avalanches, and it would not be visible from nearby villages. An application has been filed to integrate the project into cantonal plans, and a decision is pending. But it will not help plug any potential energy shortages this winter as completion is not expected before 2025.
700 football pitches
Meanwhile, a much larger solar farm is planned at 2,000 metres’ altitude on a mountain near the village of Grengiols.
“The Grengiols-Solar project could be realised immediately and would bring an additional energy output of 1 TWh,” Valais Senator Beat Rieder told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. This could in theory meet the electricity needs of a city of 100,000-200,000 residents.
Environmentalists are anxious as the huge facility – the equivalent of 700 football pitches – would be located in the Binntal Nature ParkExternal link, which has the distinction of being a “Regional Nature Park of National Importance”.
Armin Zeiter, president of the municipality of Grengiols, rejects the idea that solar panels would disfigure the landscape.
“For me, renewable energy is about preserving nature,” he told SRF. The communal authorities voted in favour of the CHF750 million project in June. They hope work can be started soon. But a planning application has not yet been submitted and many open questions remain, such as the suitability of the site and how the system will be connected to the grid. The German-language weekly Die Wochenzeitung recently reportedExternal link some local opposition to the project.
The two solar projects have been advancing slowly against a backdrop of feverish activity in the Swiss capital, Bern. Politicians are grappling with pressing questions on climate action, future energy supply, dependence on Russian gas, and measures to get the country through the winter.
Recently, parliament agreedExternal link a CHF3.2 billion climate action package to help Switzerland meet its long-term CO2 goals. It should also partly address Switzerland’s immediate energy security that has been threatened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Parliament also agreed that more ambitious targets are needed to double the amount of renewable energy produced in Switzerland by 2035 and increase the production of solar electricity in lowland regions and in the Alps.
Rieder and a group of other senators pushed for lighter-touch rules so that large solar installations in the Alps can be implemented quickly. Environmentalists were shocked to hear them call for the scrapping of environmental impact assessments and detailed planning procedures for solar farms.
Parliament ultimately agreed on a more moderate approach that complies with the Swiss constitution. Large Alpine solar plants producing over ten GWh per year can benefit from federal funds (up to 60% of investment costs) and easier planning procedures.
But the Swiss legislative body also decided that such Alpine solar parks, viewed as emergency measures, should not be installed in protected nature zones. They must also be dismantled at the end of their lifetime. New buildings with a surface area bigger than 300m2, anywhere in the country, must also install solar panels.
Relief and indignation
Reacting to the decision, Mountain Wilderness said it was “relieved that the completely free pass to industrialise the Alps” had been prevented. But it remains unhappy with the outcome, which it considers “watered down” because the building size requirement eliminates single-family homes and other smaller buildings.
The Franz Weber Foundation calledExternal link parliament’s support for large Alpine solar parks “irresponsible” and said it should be challenged by a referendum.
Pro Natura, for its part, welcomed the fact that parliament had dropped the “most objectionable, unconstitutional provisions” like the removal of environmental impact studies.
“But the acceleration of solar projects will still take place primarily at the expense of nature – on Alpine open spaces,” spokesperson Nathalie Rutz told SWI swissinfo.ch.
Businesses, meanwhile, have not been slow to react and other projects may soon be in the pipeline. Since parliament passed the law easing regulations for building high-altitude solar farms, seven big Swiss electricity companies have reportedly started looking around for options.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper wrote last week that the Solalpine interest group is to scout the country for up to ten possible locations for vast mountaintop solar parks, before launching discussions with local authorities, citizens and stakeholders.