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Swiss escape power cuts in western Europe


Major power cuts in western Europe on Saturday have left consumers in Switzerland virtually unscathed.

Swiss electricity companies reduced imports from neighbouring Germany and temporarily increased the production capacity of domestic power plants.

Switzerland had managed to maintain its electricity supplies, said a spokeswoman for the power grid coordinator, Etrans.

She said Swiss experts had reacted as soon as they noticed a drop in the extra high-voltage grid. The situation returned to normal in the early hours of Sunday, according to Etrans.

The spokeswoman added that the incident was not on the same scale as the massive power cuts in 2003 which started in Switzerland and plunged large parts of Italy into the dark.

She said Swiss power companies had learned their lessons and that coordination had improved.

The Swiss power industry, while part of the European network, is largely self-sufficient.

Switzerland is a major energy trading centre, with annual electricity imports and exports often totalling up to ten times the European average.

In France

In the latest incident on Saturday about ten million people in western Europe, notably in France, were left without electricity from around 10pm.

Power companies said the blackout was triggered by a surge in demand in Germany, and then spread to other parts of Europe. Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands were also affected by the power cuts.

"We weren't very far from a European blackout," a senior official with the French power company, RTE, said. He added that two German high-voltage transmission lines had failed, prompting a chain reaction in other countries.

Automatic security system cut supplies to some customers to avoid a total blackout.

Most electricity supplies were restored within two hours of the blackout.

The exact cause of the power cuts is being investigated.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swiss electricity market 2005:
Imports from EU: 47 billion kWh (kilowatt hour).
Exports to EU: 40.7 billion kWh.
Electricity consumption: 61.6 billion kWh.

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In brief

Switzerland was blamed for a major power cut in Italy after a tree fell on a transmission line in September 2003.

The Swiss power grid coordinator, Etrans, came in for criticism from neighbouring France and Italy for failing to react in time. But Etrans has dismissed the allegations.

In June 2005 a major power failure brought the entire Swiss railway network to a standstill.

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Swiss electricity market

Switzerland currently produces some 40% of its electricity from five nuclear power reactors; most of the rest comes from hydropower.

Moves are underway to negotiate a joint electricity treaty between Switzerland and the European Union.

Earlier this year parliament in principle approved a gradual liberalisation of the Swiss electricity market, four years after voters had rejected more far-reaching plans.

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