A recent draft proposal in Switzerland for how to handle emergencies due to blackouts caused by a shortage of electrical power has raised some attention. In the proposal, if an emergency gets to the 3rd stage, many uses of electricity are discouraged or forbidden. The one that has gotten the most attention is a rule that nonessential driving in electric cars would be curtailed.
This has gotten attention because of the debate over how ready the world is to handle a transition from gasoline to electric cars. In Europe, the Russian war on Ukraine has disrupted energy supplies, making countries worry about possible shortages and blackouts in a system not prepared for the consequences of war.
Reading this, people are pondering if this could be a reason to avoid getting an EV. While the rule allows driving to work, shopping, medical care and other essentials, and the excellent Swiss train system would still operate, people are concerned about what might be curtailed.
The reality is fortunately not that scary. For one thing, wars that shut off oil and gas supplies are just as likely, if not more likely, to cause gasoline shortages with similar curtailments of driving those vehicles.
In addition, at the proposed Stage 3, a lot of other things in Swiss life are being curtailed, including:
- Shops must reduce hours or close branches
- Use of electric dryers is curtailed
- Buildings with electric heat must set thermostats to 18 degrees C, except in medical facilities.
- Use of hot tubs, saunas etc. is curtailed
- Electric heat for pools is forbidden
- Lighting on sports fields, inflatable buildings, car washes, disco lighting are banned
- Use of video players and game computers and consoles, online streaming, ice rings, crypto mining and high frequency trading are banned
- At stage 2 they already shut down outdoor ads, festive lighting, home dryers, mini-bars, coolers, plate warmers, ice machines, escalators and moving walkways.
- At stage 1 they shut down portable heaters, patio heaters, air conditioning, parking lot lighting, bright lighting, lighting of empty spaces, hot water in public toilets, heating of spaces with open doors, and leaving computers on when not being used.
In other words, this is a period of major curtailment of Swiss Life.
Outside of things like this war, Switzerland is not so likely to need this plan. It gets 62% of its electricity from hydro and 29% from nuclear (though it is, perhaps mistakenly, trying to phase out its nuclear plants.) With all that hydro it’s also well placed to do more pumped storage of renewable power as that grows in their power grid. Its mountains and rainfall put it in a great place for wind and hydro.
Indeed, it seems arguable that it’s more likely that an oil and gas shortage would be more likely to put a damper on gasoline driving than electric, though it’s not out of the question that it could go the other way, if they replace their nuclear with fossil — which seems an odd plan.
As such, this document, which is just a draft, may be simply more an expression of Swiss caution than a likely scenario for the future. If anything, it’s a sign of how important it is for Europe to stop using oil and gas, the purchase of which has been the key enabler of the Russian autocracy and the atrocities in Ukraine.