Energy Supply

Blackout | Energy Supply Security | Gas Market Liberalisation

Short or long term shortages could cause a blackouts lasting for hours or days, thereby at least partially disrupting the economy. Not only would for example all of the tram and train services have to be discontinued, but also the road traffic would collapse because the traffic lights would not work anymore. Lights would go out in offices and production plants, lifts would stall and printers, telephones, computers as well as machinery would give out.

Faced with these blackout scenarios, which would affect the economy as well as private households, the question arises what the status of the energy supply security in Switzerland is.

In principle, the energy industry as well as – within their competences – the federal government and the cantons, make arrangements to ensure a stable and sufficient energy supply. The national energy demand in Switzerland is primarily covered by oil, electricity and natural gas. In order to provide security of supply and a competitive electricity market, as of 1 January 2008 the federal legislator adopted the Federal Act on the Electricity Supply (Stromversorgungsgesetz). In line with the Energy Strategy 2050, the Electricity Supply Act is currently being revised. On the other hand, there is no specific federal act (yet). However, various federal as well as cantonal and municipal laws make reference to the use and handling of fossil fuels and the drafting of a new gas supply law was included in the legislative period 2015-2019. The whole energy sector has been and is currently undergoing a considerable regulatory transformation, entailing numerous different legal questions still to be clarified.

For example, in theory, the gas market has been liberalised for decades by the market deregulation clause in article 13 of the Federal Act on Pipelines (Rohrleitungsgesetz). Said clause rudimentarily prescribes an obligation for the gas companies to transport natural gas for third parties if it is technically possible and economically reasonable. In addition, as of 1 October 2012 the access to the natural gas grid is regulated by a private law associations agreement between natural gas suppliers and large-scale consumers. The gas industry had the associations agreement analysed by the Competition Commission. The latter abstained from initiating an investigation, however, explicitly reserved the right carry out examinations on a case-by-case basis should there be violations of the antitrust laws. In this context, in January 2019, for the first time the COMCO initiated an investigation against two gas suppliers for possible abuse of a dominant market position. Overall, despite the supposed gas market liberalisation, there is still legal uncertainty.