«Das Risiko einer Strommangellage ist da, aber ich schlafe nach wie vor bestens»

Dr Lukas Küng is managing director of Primeo Netz AG and also head of the Organisation for Power Supply in Extraordinary Situations, in short: OSTRAL. We spoke with him about the reliability of supply in Switzerland, the risk of a power shortage, and how each and every individual can prepare for it.

Dr Küng, everyone's talking about the reliability of supply. Are the concerns justified or is it a "spectre of fear," as some say?

Nobody needs to panic. We are very well prepared, and I can still sleep well. But the likelihood of a lengthy electricity shortage has recently increased somewhat.

How do we know that this is the case?

Signs of this are, for example, rising energy prices, which we have been seeing since last year. However, the war in Ukraine is also currently playing a role, together with climate change, which means, for example, that rivers have too little water or it becomes too hot to run power stations. In addition, there are factors such as decarbonisation and the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, which must then be replaced by sustainable alternatives. It is important to note that the probability of a power shortage per se is small. However, the question is whether it is very small or just small. That's why it's definitely a good idea to be prepared.

How can people prepare?

The measures for private individuals and companies are very similar. It is advisable to examine where you use a lot of electricity in your home or business and what you can do without in an emergency. Of course, it's also a good idea to invest in a photovoltaic system – or even better, in building insulation, for example. This also helps to save electricity or to become more independent in case of a power shortage. By the way, the Federal Office for National Economic Supply has put together an electricity guide with tips that's available online.

Dr Lukas Küng is managing director of Primeo Netz AG and also head of Ostral. Switzerland is well prepared for a possible electricity shortage, he says.

How well prepared is Switzerland in general for a possible electricity shortage?

Switzerland is well prepared. At OSTRAL, we have put measures in place that will enable us to respond very effectively to a shortage of electricity.

What are these measures?

We have a four-level approach. If there is an electricity shortage, the Federal Council will first of all ask everyone to save. It will call on citizens and businesses to stop unnecessary energy consumption. The next level involves restrictions. The use of saunas or ski lifts, for example, will be prohibited. The next level involves rationing, which only applies to companies. Here, we stipulate that companies can consume a certain amount of allocated electricity, and they then have to manage on their own. And the fourth measure is the grid disconnection, which affects everyone. In this case, the grid operators will switch off certain districts on a cyclical basis for a certain period of time according to defined plans. Some will have electricity, others not.

Can you tell us more about these plans?

The operators responsible for disconnecting the grids have these plans in their control centres. There, every switch is defined, together with details of how much energy is saved when it is turned off. The plans are also coordinated with the crisis management teams of communes and cantons. When switching off, we make sure that it affects everyone more or less equally, that the electricity is in fact off, and that the technical aspects of switching actually work.

How do you see the near future at OSTRAL, taking into account the war in Ukraine? Do you perhaps know more than the general public?

Well, we don't have any intelligence information. But there are people in the Federal Office for National Economic Supply who can assess the situation more accurately. I'm not one of them. The experts there, including the Federal Office for Civil Protection or the Swissgrid, are monitoring the situation and consulting each other. We at OSTRAL are then informed about what to do based on their decisions. We are the organisation carries out the orders.

What is OSTRAL?

OSTRAL is the Organisation for Power Supply in Extraordinary Situations. It belongs to the Association of Swiss Energy Companies (ASEC) and is under the supervision of the Federal Office for National Economic Supply. In case of a long-term power shortage, OSTRAL receives a mandate from the Federal Government to implement the defined measures, from monitoring the situation initially, to issuing appeals to save, all the way to grid disconnections. OSTRAL was formed from the organisation that manages power station crises and has had its current form since 2011.

The most important terms

An electricity shortage means power is available over longer periods but in much smaller quantities than needed. Demand is therefore bigger than supply.

A blackout is a power failure. Unlike an electricity shortage, a blackout means no electricity is available at all.

Electricity gap refers to insufficient power generation power plants are not working, especially during winter. This is not a technical term.

Supply is considered to be reliable when electricity consumers can get the amount of electricity they need at any time in sufficient quantity and quality, without interruption, and at a reasonable price.