For fear of shortages, the Swiss rush to generators


The threat of a power outage worries many Swiss. Angular stone

Will gas and electricity run out during the winter? Difficult 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 published on August 17, 2022 – 14:02

Currently, there is a real race for generators in Switzerland. “Last July, we sold nine times more Power Stations and four times more generators than we did in July 2021,” said Alex Hämmerli, spokesman for online retailer Digitec Galaxus.

And this observation doesn’t just apply to the leader in online commerce in Switzerland. The competition also registers a strong interest in emergency power systems.

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Purchase of candles and firewood

Preparing for crisis situations has a long tradition in Switzerland. For example, there are more places in the bunkers than 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 such a context, it is not surprising that manufacturers and distributors are witnessing a rush to power plants and generators. Werner Luginbühl, President of the Federal Electricity Commissionexternal link, is one of the largest electricity authorities in the country. In early August, he advised on the NZZ am Sonntag to buy candles and firewood.

In any case, candles are already on the official emergency reserve list for every household, as are batteries. But not generators. “There are no recommendations for the purchase of emergency generators”, indicates the Federal Office for Population Protectionexternal link in response to a question.

The smartest 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.

Already in 2015, the German Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (BKK) released an information filmexternal link entitled Was tun bei Stromausfall – Strom selbst erzeugen (What to do in case of a power outage – Generate it yourself), which invites people and neighboring 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, says a spokesman for the German BKK, interviewed by swissinfo.ch: case of emergency and take measures in accordance with your personal needs, but also with your individual possibilities”.

Likewise, unlike Switzerland, in Germany there has been a call to private companies not only to define economic scenarios, but also to equip themselves. 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 buy emergency power generators. The goal is to have 72 hours of autonomy in case of emergency.

Wealth does not protect against a long blackout

It’s 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. The information site of the German radio and television SRF indicatesexternal link that half-yearly rent for a village emergency power system costs 100,000 francs from a Swiss supplier.


Delivery of a generator set to a private buyer. FRS

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

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

short term solutions

Devices that it is actually possible to buy do not allow you to overcome a multi-week power outage. It was mainly Power Stations – oversized batteries that are often recharged at the outlet – that Digitec Galaxus sold in bulk in July: three times more Power Stations than generators. However, a Power Station can only briefly supply an entire house.

Gasoline or diesel generating sets, on the other hand, have fire protection problems: in Switzerland it is prohibitedexternal link store more than 25 liters of fuel per cellar in cans and not 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 multi-week power outage in the winter does not 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 situation of scarcity would still not mean a blackout: the Swiss authorities are betting on requests for savings, but if that is not enough, the use of certain devices will be prohibited. As a penultimate resort, large companies will have to settle for a maximum electricity quota. Cutting the power grid – for a few hours – to homes would be the highest level of the crisis plan.

The heating problem

According to the Federal Office for Economic Supply, supplies to Switzerland are currently secure. But when winter comes, a shortage of natural gas threatens.

However, the interaction between electricity and heating gives headaches to authorities and electricity producers. Indeed, 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 electrical stations recently purchased and charged from the socket are intended to provide such an electric heater.

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

Seven days later, electric companies and authorities can breathe. The 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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