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What are Switzerland's new heating rules if there's an energy shortage?

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What are Switzerland's new heating rules if there's an energy shortage?
Switzerland has announced new rules in the event of a gas shortage. Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Switzerland has announced a set of new temperature rules that would come into force if a gas shortage happens this winter. Here's what you should know.

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What's happening?

The Federal Council unveiled draft plans on Wednesday on rules that could come into force if there's a severe shortage of gas in Switzerland. 

Under the measures, the temperature inside buildings heated with natural gas would be limited to a maximum of 20C.

It comes after initial recommendations that the government issued in September aimed at preventing shortages called for the max temperature to be set at 19C.

The operation of radiant heaters or high-pressure cleaners could also be banned in the event of an energy shortage, while water heating in private households would be limited to 60C.

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Will there be a gas shortage this winter?

The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) says it is impossible to predict and depends on the weather and geopolitical factors.

However, speaking at a press conference in Bern on Wednesday, Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said people should not be alarmed because "the risk of a gas shortage during the winter of 2022-2023 is rather low".

Regardless, everyone in the country is being urged to save energy.

In August this year Swiss authorities announced that they would align themselves with the EU in its goal to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent during the winter months - October to the end of March - compared with average annual consumption.

As soon as there is a real risk of shortage, “calls to reduce consumption will be made”, the Federal Council said at the time. 

READ ALSO: What the Swiss government is asking you to do to save energy

What is the current situation regarding the gas supply in Switzerland?

Switzerland's natural gas supply is secure. Currently, all domestic pipeline capacities as well as import and export capacities are available without restriction. Russia's war on Ukraine currently has no direct impact on Switzerland's gas supply, with the exception of the sharp rise in prices.

When should you turn on your radiator?

When should you turn on your radiator? Photo by Umberto on Unsplash

Why are no measures being issued yet?

The draft rules are based on the National Supply Act - this allows for strong interventions in the event of a severe shortage of vital goods. However, these provisions cannot be enacted now, as Switzerland's supply is secure.

What could be banned in the event of a gas shortage?

The proposals contain various measures, however this doesn't mean that all of them will be put into effect if a shortage occurs. Under the draft measures, the following could be banned:

  • the heating of unused rooms
  • the heating of swimming pools, steam baths and saunas
  • the operation of radiant heaters, warm air curtains, gas fires and high-pressure cleaners
  • As mentioned above, a maximum of 20C would be allowed in indoor rooms

These bans would apply to businesses as well as private households. Hospitals and other health and care facilities are exempt from the rules. 

READ ALSO: When should I turn on my heating in Switzerland this year?

How can the Federal Council impose regulations on private households?

Swiss private households account for over 40 percent of total gas consumption. So the government says it isn't possible to significantly reduce consumption without a contribution from households. Moreover, in the event of a grid collapse, private households would no longer be supplied.

"Tenants are responsible for maintaining the temperature if they can regulate it themselves, as are owners of residential property," said the Federal Council.

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How would these bans be controlled?

The Swiss government says it would rely on personal responsibility overall. 

"The aim is not to have police officers going from home to home with a thermometer," said Parmelin on Wednesday. 

However, there could be random heating checks in the event of a critical shortage. The cantons are responsible for monitoring compliance with these bans, and it is up to the respective cantons to decide whether checks are carried out.

Are fines planned?

Ministers are looking into this. 

"Violations of this obligation will be prosecuted in accordance with the National Utilities Act (LVG)," said the Federal Council in a statement.

"The EAER will examine the possibilities of regulatory fines for violations of the LVG and inform the Federal Council at the end of January 2023."

Do the regulations only apply to buildings that are heated with gas?

Yes, the regulations would only apply to homes and businesses heating with gas. As long as there is still enough heating oil, there is no reason and no legal basis to restrict heating with oil, according to the Economic Ministry. 

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