Switzerland gets most of its gas through trading hubs in neighboring countries in the European Union, which means that disruptions affecting the rest of the continent also make their way to landlocked Switzerland, even though the country has a relatively low demand for gas compared to its neighbors. (Related: More ‘green’ insanity: Swiss firms told to brace for wave of power grid blackouts as government tells citizens to cut back on electricity.)
Natural gas represents around 15 percent of total energy consumption in Switzerland. Around 42 percent of the gas is used to heat households, and the rest is used by different industries, including manufacturing, services and transport.
But despite this low demand, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga emphasized that Switzerland is very reliant on imported oil and gas. “That is why no one can guarantee that there will always be enough gas for everyone,” said Sommaruga.
Matters were made worse by Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. Forty-seven percent of Swiss gas imports come directly or indirectly from Russia.
“We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland. In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us,” said Sommaruga during a press conference. She later admitted that the energy crisis could hit them hard.
“That’s why we are concerned about reserves and preparing for emergencies,” she added.
Swiss already have plans in place for possible natural gas shortages
Before Sommaruga’s comments, the Swiss federal government outlined plans to address the possibility of a natural gas shortage, especially this coming winter. The government warned that it would have no choice but to resort to rationing should other measures to shore up the national gas supply prove insufficient.
Back in March, Switzerland approved a plan to establish a gas reserve for the winter of 2022 to 2023. Both the government and the gas industry are preparing for this plan’s implementation.
Five regional gas utilities have already secured nearly 3.8 terawatt-hours of physical gas reserves. These are currently stored in neighboring countries and represent around 60 percent of the government’s target. The government is working on securing additional energy reserve options.
Switzerland is also exploring purchasing natural gas from European countries to reduce reliance on Russian gas. Currently, France, Italy and the Netherlands provide Switzerland with about 20 percent of the gas it consumes during winter.
The government is also exploring rationing options that it said companies should prepare for now. For example, companies operating dual-fuel plants that can switch from using natural gas to extra-light heating oil should start filling their oil tanks now.
If the government does order the country to ration gas supplies, priority for getting gas would fall to households connected to natural gas networks and to basic social services outside of education and public administration.
The first to be hit by rationing would be businesses. Sommaruga said it would initially target non-essential functions, such as escalators and neon signs. Member of the Swiss Federal Council and Economy Minister Guy Parmelin added that energy could also be cut off from unoccupied buildings, and the government could force businesses to switch to biofuels via ordinances.
If the shortage persists despite these interventions, quotas on gas consumption would be implemented, at least temporarily. Exceptions will be granted for private households and essential services such as hospitals.
“The role of the state is to guarantee a good supply of gas and electricity to the country. We want at all costs, to avoid a disruption in supply, which would have a strong impact on businesses and would then lead to an economic crisis,” said Parmelin. “We are doing everything we can so that our country can best adapt to this situation.”
Watch this clip from WION featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin signing a decree taking over oil and gas drilling in Sakhalin Island, further shoring up the country’s fuel supplies as Europe continues scrambling to deal with its energy shortages.
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