With an expansion of the offer, we will hardly be able to overcome the impending power shortage. And whether the EU wants to cede a few gigawatts to Switzerland is uncertain.
Two months ago I was allowed to give a lecture on inflation at EKT, an energy supply company in Thurgau. As a non-energy specialist, I felt a bit out of place at this event. The lectures on the topic of energy supply were all the more instructive for me and I’m not just talking about the technical aspects. My attention was mainly drawn by the general spirit of both electricity traders and grid operators (Swissgrid SA). He was clear and resolute: we will see a blackout this winter if we don’t act quickly. When I was young, I worked for a time in a large professional association in the construction industry and it was here that I first came into contact with professional advocacy. Lobbying is already very widespread in the banking sector. I was also rather skeptical about these perhaps somewhat self-interested warnings about power shortages.
However, after a thorough analysis of the situation in the Swiss electricity market, I have to admit that it is not just about alarmism, but that there are actually many reasons that should make us deal with the shortage in question. In addition, the situation has meanwhile deteriorated further in view of the low rainfall in summer. Switzerland’s strength, namely hydropower, whether run-of-river or storage power station, hardly stands out this year. Added to this are the current numerous failures of nuclear power plants in France, the gas shortage in Europe, but above all the fact that Switzerland cannot hope to solve the bottlenecks so easily thanks to electricity imports with the EU after rejecting the framework agreement. In the end, there will no longer be a binding agreement between the EU and Switzerland to regulate electricity transmission.
Now that the holidays are drawing to a close, Bern has just woken up. The topic of power shortages is also finding increasing attention in the media. That’s a good thing if we stick to the motto “better late than never”, but earlier and much earlier would have been desirable and even necessary if you consider the difficulty of realizing large-scale projects in a manageable time in our day and age Country. A prognosis is therefore much safer. With an expansion of the offer, we will hardly be able to overcome the impending power shortage. And it is not foreseeable whether the EU, which will itself be confronted with the shortage, will want to cede a few gigawatts to Switzerland.
Switzerland is gradually becoming aware of this, which is why politics is also focusing more on demand. We simply have to reduce consumption and do so significantly. But, as always, when a commodity is in short supply, a race begins to monopolize the precious commodity where everyone thinks only of themselves. Industry associations, the consumer lobby, large companies try to set priorities that allow them to avoid being overtaken as much as possible. Switzerland, a country that flows with milk and honey, has little experience with bottlenecks. And this is now reaching us with all the greater force. The word scarcity could become the barbaric term of the year, because we lack everything. Raw materials, metals, wood, semi-finished products, semiconductors/microprocessors and who knows what else, but the shortage is greatest in the labor market, which has been expanding like never before for at least 15 years. Responsible for this are obviously also the rapid recovery of the economy after the Corona crisis, the factual failure of China in the international supply chains and the accumulation of requirements that are now being massively discharged, which we see particularly at international airports, but ultimately also in the desire after returning to normal. Problem: Darkness is not compatible with this normality, let alone with chills (at 20°C?) in the apartment in winter.
A long time ago, when I was still living in the canton of Zurich, we had a total blackout of about twenty minutes in the middle of the night. I still remember this experience clearly. The darkness was complete, somber but also fascinating. Flashlights could be seen in the apartments, sometimes dim light, probably from candles, but nothing more. Luckily I had an old camping gas lamp around the house and we sat around the table quite comfortably (there was a lot to talk about) and waited to see what happened next. Until everything is back to normal. Then it took us a good half hour to restart all the electronics in the house: set the clocks, restart WiFi, reprogram timers, etc. The power failure was obviously not the result of a defect, but the result of a technical glitch. But she showed me how dependent we are on electricity. After all, electricity doesn’t just come out of the socket. It must first be produced, then transported. This experience was especially instructive for my sons, who don’t know the dark hours. When the villages were almost completely dark at new moon, when the dwellings were only dimly lit – the famous 25-watt lightbulbs – when public lighting was not yet commonplace or when neon signs were no more familiar than on television (Tokyo). The windows were also erased at night and all this was not without charm. An atmosphere that was a bit reminiscent of camping when you had to go to the toilet with a flashlight at night, which I found particularly adventurous. light pollution? No, that term didn’t even exist.
What I want to say is that we can get by very well with less (light). If the price of electricity were based on scarcity, which we know has a price, we would certainly treat electricity very differently. Scarcity is also always a soft impediment to saving, which in a society that knows opulence is rather positive. But where to start? This discussion has at least the merit of being started, and it sometimes takes on grotesque proportions. Especially when some try to explain why savings, even quotas, are impossible for them. I secretly wish that one day the situation would be really tense. The savings potential is considerable, but it would only be used a little better in such a situation. We probably wouldn’t need to shiver if we didn’t also heat the environment at the same time, because the bottom-hung window stays open all day and the apartment is heated to 22°C all the time, even though we may have only spent 12 hours a day closed home. If the motorways in Belgium were not illuminated, there would probably not be any additional accidents. Statistically, there is no connection between city lighting and the frequency of accidents. The shops on Bahnhofstrasse and elsewhere would certainly not suffer a loss in sales because their windows would no longer be lit at night. Check for yourself all the lighted places at night, sometimes with a bright light. Is it really necessary? Unfortunately, we live in a time when everything should go on as before. Because no one likes to change their habits, as the coronavirus has taught us. Unless he has to. It’s going to happen this winter and it’s our fault.