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ENERGY

How energy shortages could hit daily life in Switzerland

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.

How energy shortages could hit daily life in Switzerland
If you drive an electric car, you'll be out of luck during power outage. Photo: Pixabay

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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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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