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05.08.2022 | About the Organisation for Power Supply in Extraordinary Situations

Heading off the power shortage with OSTRAL

For the coming winter, the risks to security of supply have increased. Should things get tight, Switzerland has a plan. The most important information about the responsible organisation OSTRAL and its plan of measures. 

It’s been 30 years since OSTRAL, the Organisation for Power Supply in Extraordinary Situations, was launched by the Association of Swiss Electricity Companies (VSE). It works under the supervision of the Federal Office for National Economic Supply and will intervene on its instruction. The organisation unites the most important electricity producers and industry stakeholders as well as Swissgrid under the coordination of the VSE. 

Supply security

Guaranteeing a secure electricity supply means that consumers can obtain the desired quantity of electricity without disruption at the necessary quality and for a reasonable price. In order to guarantee this, power plants and grids must be able to cover demand. If it comes to an energy shortage, i.e. if there is an imbalance in supply and demand for a period of several days or weeks, security of supply may be compromised.

Click here for the definition

Electricity shortage

An electricity shortage is not the same as a blackout, where there is a power outage. An electricity shortage refers to scenarios where energy is in short supply because several key electricity producers suffer an outage. This is caused by an imbalance in supply and demand over an extended period, i.e. when the demand for electrical energy is greater than the supply. This means that electricity is available, but in reduced quantity. 


What would happen in the worst-case scenario?

The organisation differentiates between four levels of readiness. During normal operations, readiness level 1 is in force. The Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) oversees the supply situation. In the event of a power shortage, it alerts OSTRAL and readiness level 2 is initiated. The population will be asked by authorities and FONES to save electricity. If this is not enough to stabilise the situation, readiness level 3 is initiated. At this stage, the Federal Office for National Economic Supply will apply to the Federal Council to put corresponding management measures in place. At readiness level 4, the Federal Council adopts a regulation to implement these measures and tasks the Federal Office for National Economic Supply or OSTRAL with the implementation of the measures.

What measures can be taken?

If readiness level 4 comes into effect, action is taken in line with the provisions of the Electricity Management Ordinances adopted by the Federal Council. It can repeal parts of the Electricity Supply Act (ESA) on the basis of the National Economic Supply Act (NESA). These measures include managing supply by controlling electricity production as well as steering consumption.

Overview of the Management Ordinances

• Bans on certain electrical appliances (e.g. air-conditioning systems, escalators, saunas)

• The temporary suspension of the free market economy

• The central control of power plants

• Restrictions and bans on the export and transit of electrical energy

• Rationing of electrical energy for major consumers

• Rotating grid disconnections

More information on the regulations

OSTRAL can control supply by centrally controlling electricity production or centrally managing power plants. It can also stop trade or restrict electricity imports/exports.

To control consumption, OSTRAL may, for example, appeal to the economy and the population to save electricity. Other measures include restrictions on consumption, rationing or grid disconnections.


Restrictions, rationing and cyclical disconnections

In an initial step, the Federal Council may ban the use of use of non-essential, energy-intensive appliances. These might include saunas, whirlpools, air-conditioning units, escalators and lifts, display window lighting, etc.

In a second step, major consumers will be obliged to save a prescribed amount of energy.

In the third and last stage of the emergency plan, the electricity may be switched off for four hours on a cyclical basis. There are two levels of shutdown here. The electricity can either be switched off for four hours so each of the regions receives eight hours of electricity, or switched off for four hours and each region supplied with electricity for four hours. 

The OSTRAL portfolio of measures outlines bans and restrictions
I want to prepare myself. What can I do?

As well as an extensive information page on OSTRAL, our subsidiary CKW also offers live questions and answers.

Click here to go to the website, where you will also find upcoming event dates.


What needs to be done to avert a power shortage this winter?

Countering a shortage scenario not only this coming winter but also in the medium and long term will require several measures. On the one hand, there is a need to secure framework conditions that will facilitate a rapid scaling up of renewable energies. This includes suitable funding instruments (tender-based floating market premiums, adequate investment amounts), faster approval processes, an expansion of approval capability, especially with regard to large-scale PV facilities, and an increased focus when weighing up the benefits. On the other hand, the relationship with the EU needs to be clarified quickly and the integration of Switzerland into the European electricity market assured.


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