Swiss electricity boss: energy crunch has not been totally averted

The Grimsel Dam in canton Bern. In 2021, Switzerland generated 61.5% of its electricity from hydropower. Keystone / Juerg Mueller

The head of the Swiss Federal Electricity Commission (Elcom) says the risk of energy shortages this winter has not been completely averted and it is important to keep saving electricity.

This content was published on November 21, 2022 - 11:47

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.

Extra candles needed?

In August, Switzerland’s top electricity official warned that the public must expect temporary power cutsExternal link this winter in a worst-case scenario.

“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. 

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