Energy For Members

How energy shortages could hit daily life in Switzerland

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 10 Sep, 2022 Updated Sat 10 Sep 2022 07:57 CEST
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If you drive an electric car, you'll be out of luck during power outage. Photo: Pixabay

Beyond plunging the country (or some of its regions) into darkness and cutting off heating as well, a power outage will inconvenience Switzerland’s residents in a number of ways. Here are some of them.

Like other countries, Switzerland is not immune to consequences of energy shortage that could hit this winter.

Swiss authorities are worried about what would happen to essential services if the power goes out.

In cases of extreme shortages, electricity operators will have to cut the power off for four hours every eight hours, including for households. Only certain infrastructures considered essential would be spared, such as hospitals, emergency and security services, water supply systems, and the emission of radio and television waves.

The Local already wrote about Swiss cantons preparing for situations when power cuts would prevent people from calling ambulances or fire services.

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

But what about other ‘vulnerable’ services?

Swiss public broadcaster SRF recently obtained minutes of a meeting that the Federal Office for Civil Protection had with representatives of Switzerland's critical infrastructures. Its goal was to coordinate the efforts to maintain essential services in the event of a power shortage.

The document "shows the fragility of Switzerland in the face of a possible blackout", the broadcaster reported, particularly in the areas of telecommunications, payment transactions, and transport.

This is the overview of the weak points:

Telecommunications

It takes is a power outage of about an hour for the mobile telephone networks of all the operators in the country to stop working, the document says.

Taking into account power cuts of four hours every eight to 12 hours, "the power supply time (between two cuts) is not enough to recharge the batteries of the antennas. This will result in breakdowns".

The vulnerability of the mobile phone network was described as "shocking" by an unnamed participant in the meeting: "A blackout can happen very quickly. And without communication, society faces enormous problems", that person reportedly said.

The Federal Office of Communications is examining how to limit this risk, but no concrete solutions have so far been proposed.

On the other hand, when it comes to data, the network seems more resilient.

Computer centres could last at least 72 hours thanks to diesel generators, and could be resupplied to maintain the internet.

However, this could be off-limit to private individuals.

“It is clear that if your home router is not supplied with energy, you will not have access to internet data », a spokesperson for Swisscom told SRF.

Electronic payments

Another subject discussed during the meeting were electronic payments.

The main challenge for the banks would  be to operate the ATMs, which need electricity.

This would also imply ensuring the supply of money to the distributors, which would be taken by storm. As for the counters inside the bank, they may have to close in the event of a blackout as well.

"There are situations in which banks are asked to close their doors to protect their customers' money. This is why the government recommends that citizens keep banknotes in small denominations for essential purchases for a few days", Martin Hess, spokesperson for the Swiss Banking Association told the broadcaster.

Obviously, credit cards could not be used either in such situations.

Public transport

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) have their own electrical resources; in the event of a general breakdown the energy autonomy of the rail system is estimated at about one hour — just enough time to bring the trains back to the station and not leave passengers stranded.

However, in a complete blackout, all train services would come to a standstill.

Automobiles would work, unless you drive an electric car.

"It is obviously not certain that this worst-case scenario will come true this winter",  according to RTS broadcaster. "However,  it is no longer totally excluded. In any case, the current reflections highlight the fragility of the system, the interconnection of the various economic factors, as well as the critical importance of communication infrastructures and fuel supply. 

READ MORE: Lights out? Swiss brace for looming power shortages
 
 

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/09/10 07:57

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