Be careful if you have been taken in by this recent headline– Switzerland is not banning electric vehicles. What they’re doing is drafting a plan to handle electricity shortages. Every government has contingencies and disaster plans; George W. Bush put together a pandemic response team, for instance, to help guide disaster management in the case of a future pandemic. Switzerland’s “ban” on electric vehicles are actually guidelines for the country to reduce energy use during a national emergency or energy crisis.
What is actually happening?
Switzerland is a small, mountainous country in the middle of Europe. They’re landlocked by Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Liechtenstein. Currently, Switzerland creates their own power with hydroelectric and nuclear plants, along with some traditional or sustainable energy plants, like wind power plants. In the summer, their hydroelectric plants produce enough energy that they export a good bit of it, but in the winter when rivers freeze, they need to import energy. Because they rely on surrounding countries so heavily in the winter, legislators are drafting plans for a time when relying on other countries for energy is inadvisable. If the war with Ukraine escalates and more countries are engaged in active warfare, for instance, or if prices from other countries become unsustainable, Switzerland wants to have plans in place to decrease their electricity usage so that they don’t have to rely on foreign suppliers. The Switzerland electric car ban that headlines have been talking about is nothing more than a contingency plan that’s still in draft stages.
What does the plan entail?
The draft plan currently functions similarly to the way governments asked citizens to only go out for essential tasks like grocery shopping during the pandemic. “In the event of a serious power shortage,” a press release from the Swiss Federal Council says, “the measures would be adapted to the severity of the shortage and the current situation, and the ordinances would only then come into force.” The plan details how to respond to an escalating energy shortage, and was a cooperative effort between businesses and government entities to minimize economic damage.
“Customers who buy or order a vehicle now will think twice about whether they should go back to petrol or diesel." Andreas Burgener
In a time of an energy crisis, the Swiss government may ask citizens to use their electric vehicles only for essential trips, like work, getting groceries, medical trips, or trips for religious ceremonies. Before asking citizens to curtail their electric vehicle usage, though, the government would first ask that energy be saved in other ways, like turning off illuminated shop windows, mobile heaters, or other forms of night lighting. In an extreme scenario, the government could order 30,000 companies to save 30% of their energy. After asking for these other energy saving measures, the government would then ask electric vehicle users to do their part. At that point of a crisis, of course, there would likely be shortages of oil and gas as well, meaning that electric vehicles would not be the only ones affected. In a very last resort, in order to prevent a total shutdown of the grid, the government could use revolving blackouts. But in order to forestall an energy shortage, the Swiss federal energy commission has been bolstering hydropower reserves, shoring up reserve power plants, and strengthening and increasing the voltage of the transmission grid. Kelly Blue Book notes that what legislators should actually take away from this discussion is the very real need for improved infrastructure. Current electrical grids aren’t designed to handle the type of use that widespread electric vehicle use would entail, because when the grids were designed, it was assumed that cars would get energy from other sources.
The Swiss Auto Lobby Responded
The proposed draft was quick to draw critics. The Swiss car importer’s lobby protested at the proposed draft, saying “Customers who buy or order a vehicle now will think twice about whether they should go back to petrol or diesel." Andreas Burgener, director of the auto-schweiz importer’s group, said that the possible rule was a “disservice to electromobility.” The war in Ukraine has much of Europe scrambling to find oil and gas elsewhere, or to convert to other forms of electricity. Before, many countries mainly relied on Russia for a constant supply of oil and gas. Switzerland’s ability to rely on hydroelectric power is therefore in their favor, and is a reason many customers switched to electric vehicles in the first place. The EU has been promoting the adoption of electric cars, and Switzerland, although it is not part of the EU, is surrounded by member states. Electric vehicles aren’t going away any time soon.
Could electric vehicles be banned in the US?
Legislators in the state of Wyoming are actually thinking about it, in the form of a bill phasing out electric vehicles by 2035. Their state runs on gas and oil, and a significant portion of their workforce work in the oil and gas industry. Republican legislators hope to save jobs in these key sectors by drafting a bill that would prevent electric vehicles from gaining a foothold in the state. Wyoming is also an extremely big state, and putting in the infrastructure needed for electric vehicles would be, according to the legislators, prohibitive. There’s also the matter of electrical vehicle components, which are limited and not recyclable. Landfills so far don’t have best practices to dispose of these materials the way they do for traditional vehicles. Interestingly, Wyoming also has hydroelectric power, and wind and solar plants. State Senator Dockstader says that they’re not opposed to other energy sources, but “if you step away from our current energy sources, or step away from gas-powered vehicles, you can’t drive the economy.”
Don't believe everything you read on the internet. Switzerland is doing what every government tries to do–anticipate future problems and plan for ways to handle those problems. They are anticipating that their citizens will transition more and more to electric vehicles in the coming years, and are drafting plans to incorporate those new electric vehicle customers into their disaster management planning.