27.08.2019 | An objective perspective on security of supply

Enough power for the future?

The current discussion on security of supply in Switzerland is controversial. The Association of Swiss Electricity Companies (VSE) is calling for more objectivity on the topic. Studies on the security of supply and the federal Energy Strategy must not be based on assumptions that have long since been overtaken by reality.

Power supply in Switzerland is nearly CO2-free and reliable. Will that also be the case in the future and will it be sustainable?

  • The Federal Council and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) say "yes". Their System Adequacy Study indicates that security of supply in Switzerland can be assessed as non-critical up until 2035, as long as Switzerland remains connected to its power neighbours in Europe.
  • "Careful", says the Swiss Federal Electricity Commission (Elcom). It's President Carlo Schmid, who is not known to be an alarmist, warns that Switzerland is heading towards a growing power supply shortage in the winter. The increasing dependency on imports is a real problem. The last time Switzerland was able to cover its winter power needs on its own was in the winter of 2002/03. Since then, it has depended on imports - tendency rising. And. In 2017 Switzerland was for the first time a net importer of eletricity.
  • In a new study, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) concludes that "no", a massive deficit in winter is eminent. If Switzerland relies totally on heat pumps and electro-mobility, - and no other measures are instituted - there is a danger of a huge power deficit in the winter. (See details here).
  • Axpo also warns against the government's too optimistic assumptions. "From today's perspective the Energy Strategy ES 2050 is too optimistic in terms of power production, consumption and the possibility of power imports from abroad." (See article on right)
Federal government reconsiders

The SFOE is now reviewing its prognoses. In a first step the System Adequacy Study will be revised, followed by a review of the ES 2050. This will create new bases to assess security of supply.

This is where the industry association VSE is getting involved. In studies we make assumptions, define extreme and reference scenarios, create models, and, based on these, derive the need for action. However, prognoses from studies can only be as accurate as the assumptions they were based on. So new federal government studies should not work with outdated assumptions. What's needed is not "optimistic, but rather realistic and somewhat pessimistic assumptions. Security of supply must be guaranteed when things do not go according to plan."

Griessee: Hydropower and windpower - not often seen in Switzerland in one spot
Realistic assumptions...

So what does the VSE mean by realistic assumptions? The most important ones are:

  • The expansion of renewable energies in Switzerland is only developing slowly.
  • In Europe, we are seeing a massive decrease in guaranteed capacities and an acceleration of de-carbonisation while electrification is increasing. This will result in higher power demand (see details here).
  • Power imports in the winter are dependent on the export capacities and export willingness of neighbouring countries. "However, our neighbours increasingly indicate that they are also dependent on imports themselves and have difficulties upgrading the power grid for the future."
  • There is still no bilateral electricity agreement between Switzerland and the EU. "The fact that Switzerland is not integrated in the European electricity market leads to restrictions, which will intensify with the inception of the Clean Energy Package - and grid stability will be increasingly impacted by this situation."

Find more realistic assumptions here: "System-Adequacy-Studien Schweiz: Notwendige Annahmen für eine sachliche Einschätzung der Stromversorgungssicherheit"/Source VSE; German only)

...the right conclusions

It is important to consider these assumptions in new government studies and to recognise that the framework conditions for domestic power production are inadequate and lack incentives for long-term investment. 

Only with an analysis of all the critical elements "can we make a sound assessment of the possible supply risks and strike a balance between the necessary measures and risks that we are willing to take into account, says the VSE.

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