Energy Costs Are Rising — What Can You Do?
Switzerland is 100% dependent on imports for natural gas and oil, and in the winter months, it also has to import electricity from abroad. Because of the war against Ukraine, gas from Russia is only being supplied to the West in reduced volumes; moreover, in France, several nuclear power plants are currently off the net due to overhauls. In addition, after this summer’s drought and heat, water levels in many lakes and rivers are low, which limits electricity production from hydropower. Finally, prices in trading with CO2 certificates, which play an important role in electricity production, have also risen sharply recently. All of these factors are reflected in electricity and gas prices that are now at unprecedented levels internationally.
What Price Increases Can Customers Expect?
For the upcoming winter, Switzerland can expect a difficult supply situation for electricity and gas, which can result in shortages (a “Mangellage”) that will translate to increased costs. In Switzerland, energy bills for the coming year on average will rise by 27%, which translates to roughly CHF 1,215 for an average household. The surcharge prices, however, vary greatly depending on the municipality you live in and the power company that supplies your energy needs. For example, municipalities like Oberlunkhofen in canton Aargau will see a near tripling of their energy costs from last year (up to 58.0 Rp./kWh, the highest in the country), whereas the municipality of Vals in Graubünden will see no increase at all. Why such a disparity? This has to do with the fact that the suppliers responsible for the different communities have very different strategies. Energy rates, similar to mortgage rates, vary from year to year. Some municipalities secured a good energy price (by today’s standards) years ago, while others opted to buy electricity for the coming year at short notice.
Canton Basel-Stadt benefits from being more self-reliant than other communities, producing the electricity that is needed here with its own facilities, such as its hydroelectric plant on the Rhein and the district heating network, which supplies about half of all Basel households with heat generated from the incineration of our garbage and local wood. This means that the electricity provided by the Industrielle Werke Basel (IWB) is 100% renewable. For these reasons, canton Basel-Stadt will “only” see a rise in energy prices this year of 12-15% (to 29.7 Rp./kWh), about half of the average increase experienced nationally. An annual consumption of 1,600 kilowatt hours will cost around CHF 57 more this year in Basel-Stadt. With a consumption of 4,500 kilowatt hours, which corresponds to a 4-person household, the costs will go up by about CHF 161, and for residents of a single-family home—with an electric stove, electric boiler, tumbler, and heat pump—the IWB calculates additional annual costs of roughly CHF 420. Households that heat or cook with gas, however, will see a much higher cost increase, due to the restricted gas supplies from Russia. The IWB gas tariffs for gas heating customers increased by an average of 45% starting on October 1, 2022, and by around 17% for customers cooking with gas.
In Baselland, many municipalities—such as Aesch, Allschwil, Arlesheim, Binningen, Bottmingen, Muttenz, and Reinach—are supplied by the company “Primeo Energie,” which will see the greatest rise in the canton’s electricity costs in light of this crisis. They announced a whopping 46% increase, bringing the new price to 29.5 Rp./kWh. Baselland communities like Liestal that are supplied by Elektra Baselland will see an 18% increase (to 24 Rp./kWh), whereas communities supplied by the “BKW Energie AG” will only see a 5% increase in the price of electricity (to 25 Rp./kWh). The few communities in Baselland that have their own energy company will have the lowest energy costs in the canton, including Itingen (19.1 Rp./kWh), Maisprach (21.2 Rp./kWh), and Sissach (23.1 Rp./kWh).
Switzerland’s Energy-Savings Campaign
In the face of this current energy crisis, Switzerland has launched an energy-saving campaign called “Energie ist knapp. Verschwenden wir sie nicht” (Energy is scarce. Let’s not waste it), which will run until April 2023. It is aimed at companies and the general public and highlights that all energy that is saved now will help later in winter. In Basel-Stadt, the “Kantonalen Krisenorganisation” or KKO (cantonal crisis organization) has already implemented some measures to save energy. For example, the government council lowered the heating temperature in its administration buildings to 19°C. This also applies to the public cantonal schools from secondary level I (note that primary schools and kindergartens do not fall under the requirement). Lowering room temperature saves around 6% of energy for each degree. So, lowering the temperature in a building from 22°C in winter to 19°C can save 18% of energy. In response to the government council’s initiative, Swiss Post and Postfinance have announced that they will lower their building temperatures by 2°C, and some companies and businesses have already agreed to switch off the outdoor lighting and the neon signs starting at 20:00. While the government council is not imposing this energy-saving step on private households and companies at this time, the hope is that many will voluntarily lower room temperatures in their homes and businesses.
Practical Tips and Tricks to Save Energy and Money
Irrespective of the municipality you live in or your financial situation, saving energy to prevent an energy shortage is everyone’s responsibility. In addition to lowering room temperature in your home, office, or business, here are some simple measures that you can adopt to help lower your energy usage and expenditure this season.
- Electricity costs are highest between 6:00–20:00 from Monday to Friday, and lower rates (“Spartarif” or “Niedertarif”) are offered by energy companies outside those hours. Using energy-hogging appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and clothes dryers during those lower-rate hours will save money.
- Appliances and electric devices running in stand-by mode account for about 10% of a household’s annual energy consumption. Therefore, shutting off devices like stereos, coffee machines, and TVs completely when they are not in use, rather than defaulting to the stand-by mode, can save money. Using a power-bar with a switch is an easy way to do this.
- Set your computer to “sleep” or “hibernate” mode after a period of time and switch off your monitor, which can translate to a 30% energy savings. If you are away for several hours, it is worthwhile turning off the computer altogether—even screensavers consume energy!
- Unplug your chargers when not in use as they consume electricity even when no device or battery is connected for charging.
- Turn off lights when leaving a room.
- Install motion detectors in places like garages, hallways, and laundry rooms to assure that lights are automatically turned off when you leave the room.
- LED or LCC-type energy-saving light bulbs cost about CHF 8 less per year less than incandescent light bulbs.
- Thaw your frozen foods in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature—it is not only more energy efficient but also more hygienic.
- Keeping the lids on pots when cooking can save 25% of the energy needed to cook. Additionally, kettles and pressure cookers use less energy than traditional stove-top pots. Only pre-heat your oven when necessary.
- Wash your clothes at lower temperatures. Modern detergents allow normally soiled laundry to be cleaned at 30°C –40°C; only with stubborn stains or for reasons of disinfection should you wash at 60°C.
- Use the Economy (Eco) setting on your appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, and clothes dryer. Even though the cycles take longer, they are designed to use much less electricity.
- Air-dry your clothes whenever possible; tumblers use a lot of energy.
- Freezers with ice build-up use more energy to stay cold, so be sure to open your freezer door sparingly to avoid ice build-up and defrost freezers regularly to remove it.
- Keep your radiators free from furniture or curtains. Also, be sure to bleed the air out of them each season to improve their efficiency.
- Set the room temperature lower when you are not at home, on vacation, in rarely used rooms like guest rooms, as well as in the bedrooms for a better sleep.
- If you have a fireplace, be sure to close the flue tightly after each use. Keep in mind that traditional open fireplaces actually siphon the warm air from the room, making them extremely inefficient at heating.
- Conserve warm water by taking a short shower instead of a bath, and turning off water while shampooing or soaping-up. You can save up to 50% of warm water by using a water-saving shower head. Similarly, energy-efficient water-saving sets can be screwed onto your kitchen tap fittings, in place of the old aerators.