Energy For Members

‘It could hit us hard’: Switzerland prepares for impending gas shortage

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 30 Jun, 2022 Updated Thu 30 Jun 2022 13:58 CEST
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Natural gas storage facility in Germany, a country on which Switzerland depends for supply. Photo by LENNART PREISS / AFP

Switzerland is at risk of a gas shortage this winter and, depending on the situation, restrictions on consumption during the coldest months can’t be excluded.

Natural gas meets about 15 percent of Switzerland’s energy requirements. It is used mostly for cooking and heating.

Though the country buys most of this energy source through various European distribution channels, almost half of Switzerland’s supply — an estimated 47 percent — is of Russian origin. 

"We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland. In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us", Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said during a press conference on Wednesday.

She added that “the energy crisis could hit us hard. That's why we are concerned about reserves and preparing for emergencies."

Economy Minister Guy Parmelin added during the press conference that “today there is a concrete risk of a gas shortage. The problem is the heaters”.

Does this mean Swiss households will have to turn down the heat this coming winter?

The possibility of this happening is not ruled out, but the government has set its sights on switching from gas to oil to avoid shortages. 

First it is up to businesses rather to switch from gas to oil, “and to do so immediately”, Parmelin urged.

“As of today, independently of market prices, we must build up reserves of fuel oil. If everyone waits until the fall, we will have a logistical problem”, he added.

As for households, they “should be prepared to turn down the heating as well”.

In the event of an actual shortage, “consumption restrictions may be ordered, for example restrictions on the heating of unoccupied buildings. The switching to biofuel could be imposed by ordinance”, Parmelin noted.

If the shortage persists, a quota would be implemented. Initially at least, private households and essential services, such as hospitals, will not be affected, but “otherwise there will be no exceptions”.

READ MORE: ‘Very difficult’: Why Switzerland fears a Russian gas embargo

What concrete steps is the government taking to prevent shortages?

Speaking on RTS public broadcaster on Wednesday, Parmelin emphasised that "the role of the State is to guarantee a good supply of gas and electricity to the country. We want at all costs to avoid a disruption in supply, which would have a strong impact on businesses and  would then lead to an economic crisis”.

“We are doing everything we can so that our country can best adapt to this situation”.

In concrete terms, two measures have been taken to build up gas reserves.

One is to set up a physical reserve in neighbouring countries to cover 15 percent of Switzerland's annual gas consumption. Currently, only about 60 percent of this target is delivered.

The missing part of the supply will have to be purchased from France, Italy and the Netherlands in the form of options for non-Russian gas. The volume of gas provided by these countries corresponds to about 20 percent of Swiss consumption in winter.

In addition, other discussions "and exploratory work to conclude agreements with neighbouring countries are ongoing".

READ MORE : How would an embargo on Russian energy impact Switzerland?

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/06/30 13:58

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