According to Guy Parmelin, Switzerland’s president, it is possible the country could suffer electricity shortages for weeks or even months by 2025.
Switzerland faces two principal challenges when it come to electricity.
The first is that it doesn’t produce enough and must import electricity to satisfy demand. During winter around 20% of Switzerland’s electricity is supplied by Germany. With the phasing out of nuclear in Switzerland this gap is set to rise.
The second is that it relies on electricity from EU nations to plug the gap and the current EU deal on electricity sharing has been in limbo since 2018. Changes scheduled for 2025 on how the EU manages electricity could disrupt the status quo leaving Switzerland to go it alone. Switzerland’s unilateral breaking off of negotiations with EU in May probably hasn’t helped the chances of reaching a deal with the bloc.
In addition, there is a structural transition underway. After deciding to shut down its nuclear reactors, Germany has switched over to coal, a transitionary form of electricity generation that it aims to phase out by 2035. Structurally, this transition could make it difficult for Europe to produce enough electricity. Those who don’t produce their own electricity risk having black-outs, said Stéphane Genoud, an expert in energy management at HES-SO, a university in Valais.
Last month, Guy Parmelin told the country’s largest electricity consumers that Switzerland would depend on their support in the form of reduced consumption if there was a shortage.
Parmelin describes an electricity shortage as the largest risk facing Switzerland after the pandemic. He envisages shortages that could last weeks or months. This could require factories to cut production, banks to cut opening hours or transport operators to reduce the number of trains and trams running, he said. The president also called on individuals with high electricity consumption to cut their use in the event of a shortage.
In September 2021, the government sent letters to 30,000 large electricity consumers, warning of future electricity shortages.
Consumption restrictions cannot be ruled out. During shortages the Federal Council could restrict consumption if calls for voluntary reductions are not enough.
Stéphane Genoud told RTS that he thinks Switzerland has rested on its laurels and that it must produce more wind and solar electricity. For him gas is an an essential part of the solution even if it’s transitionary.
The fragility of electricity provision highlights one of the biggest challenges of reducing industrial, housing and transport emissions. Adding more emission-busting electrical devices, such as heat pumps and electric cars, to the electrical grid could become highly disruptive if there isn’t enough electricity in the grid to power them. In addition, making electricity clean by removing fossil fuels from electricity generation is not easy, especially when nuclear is no longer an option.