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Impending energy crisis – Electricity shortage: Great potential of emergency generators – News


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On Wednesday, the Federal Council outlined how it intends to ensure security of energy supply in winter. One of the measures is the use of emergency generators.

Emergency generators provide a third of the Gösgen nuclear power plant

When the power grid fails, not only does the heat pump at home go on strike, companies are also faced with serious problems. No cooling, no light, no production. But there is a helper in an emergency: so-called “emergency generators”. They are mostly operated with diesel. Should the scenario actually occur in winter that the electricity is no longer sufficient in the meantime, they could step into the breach and feed the power grid with the necessary watts. At least that’s the government’s idea.

According to a statement, there are around 300 emergency generators in Switzerland with a total output of around 280 megawatts. These are used by the transmission system operator Swissgrid for ancillary services. 280 megawatts are not insignificant. For comparison: the Gösgen nuclear power plant generates a line of around 1000 megawatts (one gigawatt) and thus covers around 15 percent of Switzerland’s electricity consumption.

Great potential for companies

Markus Blocher is the CEO of Dottikon ES. His company manufactures intermediates for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. However, the company does not count as a «system service provider». Nevertheless, the company has an emergency power generator – actually to maintain important cold chains in an emergency. The generator cannot feed the electricity grid because it is not connected to the grid. Nonetheless, the generator could help if the electricity runs out. By relieving the power grid.

The company has already carried out initial tests, says Blocher. The generator was running at 30 percent of its capacity. “So that we still have enough reserves to intercept an emergency scenario.” This means that the company can do without 25 percent of the mains electricity. Blocher estimates the potential of the entire industry to be significantly higher. «In Switzerland, there are installed capacities of around four gigawatts for emergency power generators. If you run it at about 25, 30 percent load, that would be about a gigawatt.” And thus as much as the Gösgen nuclear power plant does.

Does the Clean Air Ordinance prevent the full potential being exploited?

But if the existing potential had to be fully exploited, then there is a problem. Emergency power generators are not allowed to run for more than 50 hours a year. This is stipulated by the Clean Air Ordinance.

When asked, the Federal Office of Energy said: “For systems that run in the federal system, preparations are currently being made to temporarily relax these regulations with a revision of the corresponding ordinance in winter. However, this is currently not planned for other systems.” However, most of the generators – such as those from Dotttikon ES – are not in the federal system. The companies are therefore still bound by the regulation during the useful life.

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