For fear of shortages, the Swiss run to generators


The threat of power outages worries many Swiss. Angular stone

Will gas and electricity run out during the winter? Hard to say, but what is certain is that official Switzerland has not yet done much to remedy a possible shortage. Families, therefore, equip themselves.

This content was posted on Aug 17, 2022 – 2:02 PM

Currently, there is a real race for generators in Switzerland. “Last July, we sold nine times more power plants and more than four times more generators than in July 2021,” says Alex Hämmerli, spokesperson for online retailer Digitec Galaxus.

And this observation does not only apply to the leader in e-commerce in Switzerland. The competition also sees great interest in emergency power supply systems.

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Buying candles and firewood

Crisis preparedness has a long tradition in Switzerland. For example, there are more seats in the bunkers than there are inhabitants, and the annual test of emergency sirens only surprises newcomers. The constitution of emergency reserves is also a consolidated practice for several generations.

In this context, it is not surprising, therefore, that manufacturers and distributors are witnessing a rush to Power Plants and generators. Werner Luginbühl, chairman of the Federal Electricity Commissionexternal link, is sort of the highest electricity authority in the country. In early August, he advised on the NZZ am Sonntag to buy candles and firewood.

Candles are already on the official emergency reserve list for all homes, as are batteries. But not generators. “There are no recommendations for the purchase of emergency generators”, indicates the Federal Secretariat for Population Protectionexternal link in response to a question.

The Most Insightful Germans

This summer, German journalists traveled to Switzerland to report on the many bunkers and storage tradition. But when it comes to individual emergency power supply, Germany does more.

As early as 2015, the German Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BKK) released an informational filmexternal link entitled Was tun bei Stromausfall – Strom selbst erzeugen (What to do in case of a power outage – Generate Electricity Yourself), which invites people and surrounding communities to learn about emergency generators or complete emergency power systems.

The film still enjoys some popularity on Youtube today, and its content remains largely valid, said a German BKK spokesperson, interviewed by swissinfo.ch: in case of an emergency and take action according to your personal needs, but also with their individual possibilities”.

Likewise, unlike Switzerland, in Germany there was a call for private companies not only to define economic scenarios, but also to prepare. Patrick Graichen, Secretary of State at the German Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, called on all private companies in early July to purchase emergency power generators. The goal is to have 72 hours of autonomy in case of an emergency.

Wealth doesn’t protect against a long blackout

It is not just devices that cost a few hundred or thousands of francs, but also professional emergency power systems that are currently in demand by wealthy individuals in Switzerland. SRF’s German-language radio and television information site indicatesexternal link that the biannual rental of an emergency power system that supplies a village costs 100,000 francs from a Swiss supplier.


Delivery of a generator set to a private buyer. FRS

However, having this sum tidied up is not enough to get such a system. SRF research shows that demand currently exceeds supply, both in Switzerland and internationally.

Private homes also come last on the priority list. People who want to take precautions in Switzerland cannot therefore afford short-term energy self-sufficiency, regardless of their financial situation.

short term solutions

The devices you can actually buy don’t allow you to overcome a power outage that lasts several weeks. It was mainly the Electric Power Plants – oversized batteries that are often recharged at the outlet – that Digitec Galaxus sold en masse in July: three times more Plants than generators. However, a power station can only briefly supply an entire house.

On the other hand, petrol or diesel generating sets pose fire protection problems: in Switzerland, it is prohibitedexternal link store more than 25 liters of fuel per cellar in cans and no more than 100 liters in a protective cupboard. As electric generators consume between 1 and 3 liters of fuel per hour of operation, autonomy is also limited in this case.

However, a power outage lasting several weeks in winter doesn’t seem realistic to most experts. The risk of shortages, on the other hand, seemed very real to the authorities, at least until mid-August.

However, a shortage still wouldn’t mean a blackout: Swiss authorities are betting on requests for savings, but if they are not enough, the use of certain devices will be banned. As a penultimate resort, large companies will have to settle for a maximum electricity quota. Cutting off the power grid – for a few hours – for families would be the highest level of the crisis plan.

The heating problem

According to the Federal Office for Economic Supply, supply to Switzerland is currently secure. But when it comes to winter, natural gas shortages threaten.

However, the interplay between electricity and heating gives both authorities and electricity producers headaches. In fact, if, this winter, many families opt for mobile electric heaters because they want cozy warmth despite the shortage of gas, the situation will get worse for electricity. It is quite possible that many recently purchased and plugged-in electrical stations are intended to provide such an electric heater.

The spokesperson for the Association of Electric Companiesexternal link Swiss recalled on Aug. 11: “In view of the critical winter supply, the current rule is more than ever this: every kilowatt-hour counts – and above all, every kilowatt-hour saved.”

Seven days later, the electric companies and the authorities can breathe. Federal Council will sign contracts with companies that can compensate for short-term shortages through reserve plantsexternal link. It is also negotiating the possibility of contracting emergency generators from private companies.

Translated from German by Olivier Pauchard

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According to JTI standards

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