Swissgrid analyses supply disruption in Valais

22.07.2020

On Friday, 17 July, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid carried out check-operations concerning the extension of the 220kV switchgear in the Chippis substation in the canton of Valais. At 4.23 p.m., the protection equipment of the 220kV grid node Creux de Chippis was accidentally tripped, causing the switchgear to lose voltage. As a result of the technical failure at Chippis, the switchgear of the substations in Stalden, Bitsch, and Mörel were also affected by the voltage drop, which led to a regional supply interruption in the distribution system.

The result was a one-hour power outage in a total of 60 municipalities with around 112,000 households as well as trade and industry in the Swiss Sierre district and the largest part of the Upper Valais. By 5.23 p.m., all affected switchgear and lines of the TSCNET shareholder were back in regular operation. Thanks to the good cooperation between Swissgrid and the five affected distribution system operators (DSOs) of the lower voltage levels, it was possible to gradually restore the electricity supply from 5 pm onwards. By 6.15p.m. almost all customers were back on power. Swissgrid immediately initiated a detailed investigation of the incident, which is currently in progress.

Swissgrid is investigating the voltage loss in the switchgear of the Chippis substation in Valais on 17 July (picture: Swissgrid)

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Swissgrid responds to revised legislation

15.07.2020

With the national “Energy Strategy 2050”, the Swiss electorate decided in 2017 to promote renewable energies. To extend the duration of the correlating support measures, create planning security for the energy market, and eventually achieve Switzerland’s climate policy goals, the Swiss Federal Council has developed a revision of the national Energy Act (“Energiegesetz”). The Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid appreciates that the Federal Council intends to create more incentives for the expansion of domestic renewable energies while at the same time ensuring long-term security of supply.

However, the TSCNET shareholder considers that the legal framework must also contribute to integrating renewable energies into the overall system. According to Swissgrid, this is the current situation in Switzerland: The combination of the absence of an electricity agreement with the EU, a significant increase in renewable energy with volatile generation, and the sluggish expansion of the grid affects the operation of the transmission system. Because even today, the grid expansion is not keeping pace with that of the renewables.

To meet the goals of the “Energy Strategy 2050”, it must first be ensured that approval procedures for grid projects are consistently optimised and accelerated. Secondly, innovative solutions for load management are needed to generate flexibility and provide frequency services to the transmission grid. The crowd balancing platform Equigy – a cooperation of Swissgrid, TSCNET shareholder TenneT, the Dutch-German TSO, and the Italian TSO Terna – is one example of such a solution. Thirdly, an electricity agreement between Switzerland and the EU is essential, since import and export capacity will make an important contribution to Switzerland’s supply security given the significant expansion of renewable energies. Finally, Swissgrid considers the non-discriminatory availability, quality, and transparency of data to be increasingly important for secure grid operation. This requires a legal basis for regulating data transfer between TSOs, distribution system operators (DSOs), storage and power plant operators, and other parties involved.

Swissgrid comments on the revision of the national Energy Act by the Swiss Federal Council (illustration based on a picture of Lac de Moiry in Valais, Fotoauge, Pixabay)

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Construction permit for Pradella-La Punt

13.07.2020

As the extra-high voltage line in the Swiss Engadine between Pradella and La Punt constitutes a bottleneck in the Swiss and pan-European transmission system, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid has long aimed to increase its transmission capacity to 2 x 380kV. This will improve import capacity and security of supply in the canton of Graubünden and facilitate the transport of Engadine hydropower. The project is part of the “Strategic Grid 2025”, Swissgrid’s ambitious modernisation and expansion plan.

The Swiss Federal Inspectorate for Heavy Current Installations (Eidgenössisches Starkstrominspektorat-ESTI) now has approved the reinforcement and new construction of pylons between Pradella and La Punt. Swissgrid has already refurbished the pylon foundations in the past two years, so that work can commence soon. Approximately 3500 tonnes of steel will be needed to upgrade the around 50-kilometre-long overhead line. The construction will be carried out in two sections and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

To reduce the overall environmental impact in the region, Swissgrid is supporting a local grid operator in replacing a 60kV overhead line with a 110kV underground cable. As a result, 1100 pylons will be disappearing from the landscape.

Swissgrid can start with the 2 x 380kV upgrade of the Pradella-La Punt line (picture: Swissgrid)

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High-voltage pylon of Swissgrid sabotaged

28.06.2020

On the morning of Friday 26 June, motorists on the Lausanne-Geneva motorway near the municipality of Gland in the Swiss canton of Vaud noticed how a high-voltage pylon collapsed. The cantonal police of Vaud were alerted and immediately cordoned off the area around the scene. No persons were injured. TSCNET shareholder Swissgrid, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO), disconnected and grounded the two 220kV lines affected by the collapse of the pylon, Banlieue Ouest-Foretaille and Crans-Romanel. Grid stability is guaranteed and there are no supply failures in the Swiss transmission system.

Initial findings indicate that the pylon was subject to an act of sabotage, probably with the help of explosives. On-site investigations have been carried out by the Vaud Cantonal Police and the Swiss Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) while a criminal investigation has been opened by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.

A 220kV pylon of Swissgrid has collapsed after an act of sabotage (picture: Canton de Vaud)

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Work begins on the final section of Nant de Drance

15.06.2020

The Nant de Drance pumped storage power plant in the Swiss canton of Valais is being commissioned successively in sections since 2019. The plant has a capacity of 900MW, making it one of the most powerful pumped storage plants in Europe – when it is fully operational in 2021, it will be able to generate close to 2.5bn KWh a year. TSCNET shareholder Swissgrid, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO), is responsible for connecting the power plant to the extra-high voltage grid and for to transmitting the hydropower to the urban areas of Switzerland.

Swissgrid is implementing the 380kV connection in three sections, two of which were already commissioned at the end of November 2018: the 6.5km underground cable line connecting the Nant de Drance power plant to the Châtelard substation via the plant’s access tunnel, and the 12.5km overhead line between the Châtelard and La Bâtiaz substations. The last section – from La Bâtiaz to the connecting point to the Chamoson-Romanel overhead line in Le Verney – crosses the Rhône valley over a length of 1.3km. An underground variant for this section was finally approved in January 2020 by the Federal Inspectorate for Heavy Current Installations (“Eidgenössisches Starkstrominspektorat”, ESTI). It provides for a tunnel with a diameter of around 2.5m and a depth of 12 to 20m to be drilled between different groundwater levels. This is the second underground extra-high voltage line built by Swissgrid, but the first to extend at great depth for more than one kilometre.

Preparations for construction work on the two sites in Le Verney and La Bâtiaz have been underway since mid-May. Excavation of the shafts at Le Verney will commence in mid-June. In August, the mini tunnel boring machine will be installed on the main construction site in Le Verney. Tunnel driving will take about eight months and start in September 2020 at the same time as the excavation of the shafts in La Bâtiaz. After around two years of work, the third section is scheduled to be commissioned, until which time a provisional solution has been found: In 2019, the voltage of one of the two overhead lines La Bâtiaz – Le Rosel was increased to 380kV.

Swissgrid is starting construction of the final section of the connection of Nant de Drance to the national 380kV grid (picture: Nant de Drance SA)

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New 380kV line Airolo-Lavorgo in approval phase

27.05.2020

The first plans to increase the transmission capacity of the overhead lines in the Leventina Valley in the Swiss canton of Ticino date back to 1997. Today, the upgrade of the 23-kilometre-long line between the Airolo and Lavorgo substations from 220kV to 380kV is part of the “Strategic Grid 2025”, the infrastructure expansion plan of the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid. This is a future-oriented measure of ecological value, because the TSCNET shareholder is not only enhancing capacity and security of supply for Ticino and the whole of Switzerland, but thanks to the new overhead line and the subsequent upgrade of the lines in the Maggia Valley, the hydroelectric power plants in Ticino will no longer be subject to output restrictions.

The planning corridor was approved by the Swiss Federal Council in March 2016, which provides for the line to run along the western bank of the Ticino River, which flows through the Leventina Valley. Based on this decision, Swissgrid – in close cooperation with the Canton of Ticino, municipalities and citizens’ communities – has designed the final routing, which has now been submitted for approval to the Swiss Federal Inspectorate for Heavy Current Installations (“Eidgenössisches Starkstrominspektorat”, ESTI).

The Airolo-Lavorgo line complements the connection under construction between Chippis in Valais and Lavorgo and secures the electricity supply of Ticino with an additional 380kV system. According to the plans now submitted to ESTI, the new route of the line in the Leventina Valley is to run far from any residential areas. Once the new line is operational, the current 220kV line, which in comparison is much closer to settlements, can be dismantled. The completion of the new lines in both the Leventina and the Maggia Valley, scheduled for 2035, will, under current planning, ultimately enable the disassembly of more than 60 kilometres of overhead lines.

Swissgrid has submitted the application for building the 380kV line Airolo-Lavorgo (picture: Swissgrid) 

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380kV line Beznau-Birr commissioned ahead of schedule

25.05.2020

The upgrading of the existing 220kV line between Beznau in the canton of Aargau and Mettlen in the canton of Lucerne to 380kV is a key component of the “Strategic Grid 2025“, the national expansion plan for the transmission infrastructure of the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid. The voltage increase ensures energy distribution and supply security in the Zurich metropolitan area, Central Switzerland, and the Swiss Central Plateau. The TSCNET shareholder has now put the first section between Beznau and Birr in Aargau into operation, one year earlier than planned.

This stretch was partly installed underground, namely across the so-called Gäbihübel near Bözberg/Riniken about halfway between Beznau and Birr. The cable laying at the Gäbihübel is the first time that part of an extra-high voltage line in Switzerland has been implemented using underground cables. Twelve cables with a weight of 30 tonnes each were installed in the conduit blocks in the summer of 2019. This was followed by the completion of the overhead line section. To connect overhead lines and underground cables, special structures were erected at both ends of the approximately 1.3-kilometre-long underground section. After a construction period of around two years, the Swissgrid control centre connected the new 380kV line to the transmission grid on 19 May 2020. The reasons for the early completion were Swissgrid’s successful project and implementation planning as well as the rather warm and dry weather.

Swissgrid is providing scientific support for the construction, commissioning, and further operation of the underground cable. Investigations are carried out, for example, on the thermal behaviour of the cable conductors depending on the current load, the temperature variation in the soil above the conduit block and in the surroundings, and the biodiversity in the soil. In May, work began on dismantling the old 220kV overhead line and restoration of the pylon sites to their original condition. The deconstruction work is expected to last until the end of 2020.

Swissgrid has put into operation the 380kV line Beznau-Birr, the first Swiss extra-high voltage line partially laid underground (picture: Swissgrid)

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Launch of the Equigy balancing platform

25.04.2020

To ensure the stability of the grid frequency, transmission system operators (TSOs) all over Europe respond to the increasingly volatile generation of energy from renewable sources and to the loss of reactive power from large power plants. The challenge of keeping production and consumption in balance does not stop at national borders, for which reason the TSCNET shareholders Swissgrid, the TSO from Switzerland, and TenneT, the Dutch-German TSO, are cooperating with the Italian TSO Terna in the crowd balancing platform Equigy. The platform is based on blockchain technology and the internet of things. It is conceived as digital link between the so-called TSO ancillary service markets and the market players that deliver balancing services. TSCNET customer Energinet, the Danish TSO, has formally expressed its intention to join the consortium, which would extend Equigy’s roll-out to Denmark.

With their cross-border cooperation, the consortium of Swissgrid, TenneT, and Terna wants to set a new electricity-balancing standard, improve the integration of renewables, and provide more flexibility to reduce the renewables’ random impact on the grid. As with previous, regionally limited balancing projects, Equigy aims to unlock flexibility by actively involving small and distributed consumer-based generation and consumption units in grid stabilisation. This involvement enables owners of small-scale assets to play a key role in the transformation of the energy sector by optimising their interaction with the grid. Since Equigy processes multiple small transactions, it requires a secure and scalable solution that ensures trust and transparency between all parties involved. The common vision of the participating TSOs is clear: Millions of households will stabilise the electricity grid in the future.

Open and free of charge
Equigy is based on block chain technology to execute transactions from millions of individual systems securely, cost-effectively, and transparently. This creates a single, immutable, and secure data source from which all parties can benefit. Precise rules and regulations allow consumers, businesses, and manufacturers to easily market the flexible capacity of electric vehicles, household batteries, and heat pumps in all participating countries, regardless of location, thereby simplifying access to the electricity market. At the same time, all local or regional flexibility platforms can be connected to the Equigy platform so that as much flexibility as possible can be bundled. This means: Equigy is not exclusive and can be integrated into existing grid stabilisation processes. The technology and software are open-source and provided free of charge to promote the development of secondary applications in the energy value chain. Equigy has now been successfully launched, and the pilot project to test the technology will run until the end of 2020.

In Switzerland, the project has attracted a lot of interest. Numerous partners have expressed an interest in participating. Yves Zumwald, CEO of Swissgrid, comments: “We are proud to be a founding partner of Equigy. It’s only natural that this ambitious initiative is being driven by TSOs. We are not subject to commercial constraints and are able to operate the new platform adopting a neutral position.” Manon van Beek, CEO of TenneT, can also be pleased to have various Equigy partners in Germany and the Netherlands. She emphasises the European dimension of the project: “Equigy originated from European cooperation. In a common European market, we will have to develop solutions together. We already have the same sockets. It would be a shame and unnecessarily expensive to develop different systems.”

Expansion to the north
The Danish TSO Energinet recognises the potential of Equigy and is highly interested in participating. The consortium behind Equigy appreciates this interest. Swissgrid, TenneT, Terna, and Energinet have thus signed a Letter of Intent in which the parties confirm their common interest in including Energinet in Equigy. Energinet will now examine the possibilities of becoming part of the cooperation. All partners aim to take a decision on Energinet’s accession before the end of this year. Søren Dupont Kristensen, CEO of Energinet Electricity System Operator, explains: “We are now investigating the potential of this platform in the context of the Danish energy system. Based on our findings, we will decide on joining the collaboration regarding the platform.”

The blockchain based crowd balancing platform Equigy has been launched by Swissgrid, TenneT, and Terna

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Swissgrid: Solid figures to promote innovation

23.04.2020

The primary content of the Annual Report 2019 just published by the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid is summarised by Yves Zumwald, CEO of the TSCNET shareholder, as follows: “In a challenging year, Swissgrid laid the foundation to successfully meet the challenges of the energy future in Switzerland and in Europe.” These foundations include the expansion of the grid even against possible resistance, the strengthening of international cooperation despite the absence of an electricity agreement with the EU and the innovative further development of the electricity market. “Thanks to the fantastic effort and commitment of all employees, we can look back upon a successful year,” concludes Zumwald.

The implementation of the “Strategy 2022” for the reorganisation of the Swissgrid corporate structure to further increase efficiency within the company made good progress in 2019 – just like the grid extension measures according to the company’s ambitious plan “Strategic Grid 2025”, even if complaints sometimes delayed implementation. Projects worth mentioning in this respect include the grid extension works in the Swiss canton of Valais which are important for transporting energy from hydropower to the consumption centres of Switzerland or the progress made in Central Switzerland with the 380kV line between Beznau and Birr. This line is partially laid underground, representing the very first time that part of an extra-high voltage line in Switzerland has been realised by underground cables: Twelve cables with a weight of 30 tonnes each were installed in the summer.

In terms of key financial figures, the company’s net profit rose slightly year-on-year to CHF66.7m (€63.38m), while earnings before interest and taxes amounted to CHF102.4m (€97.31m), representing a decline of 14.2%, due to lower invested operating assets and the higher net surplus in volume- and tariff-related time differences. Looking ahead to the 2020 business year and beyond, high annual investments will continue to be required due to lengthy approval processes, especially regarding grid extension or modernisation. Swissgrid assumes a medium-term planning horizon of grid investments of approximately CHF150m (€152.54m) to CHF200m (€190.1m) annually.

Concerning innovation in the ancillary services market and market integration, the Swiss TSO will continue to develop the market platform on which requested products for frequency regulation and international redispatch are combined. To compensate for frequency fluctuations due to increasingly volatile energy generation, Swissgrid is preparing the “Crowd Balancing Platform” for the control energy market, a pilot project aimed at the use of storage technologies in the field of primary control energy. The “Crowd Balancing Platform” is based on block chain technology and the internet of things. The Dutch-German TSO and further TSCNET shareholder TenneT has already verified the technical feasibility of such processes. Now Swissgrid, TenneT and the Italian TSO Terna have formed a consortium for the European use of this technology, the potential of which Swissgrid will investigate in a pilot project in Switzerland. The project will start in the summer of 2020 and run until the end of the year.

Swissgrid reports solid results in its Annual Report 2019 (picture: Swissgrid)

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New Rhône Valley power line operational in 2022

24.03.2020

In early 2018, TSCNET shareholder Swissgrid, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO), began preparations for the construction of the new 380kV line in the Rhône Valley between the two substations Chamoson and Chippis, which is to replace the old 220kV line. This new line is of crucial importance for Switzerland’s security of supply, particularly for the transmission of electricity generated in the Valais hydroelectric power plants to the consumption centres in the central Swiss Plateau.

After about 18 months of actual construction, the extra-high voltage line is now taking shape and work is underway along its entire length. But not only do numerous safety measures have to be considered during construction, also the access to some plots of land has not yet been clarified at some pylon sites. These locations are distributed along the entire route of the line. As a decision by the responsible federal authorities is still pending in some cases, Swissgrid has now reviewed the construction plans and postponed commissioning of the new line until summer 2022. As the Federal Evaluation Commission (“Eidgenössische Schätzungskommission”) has given priority to the TSO’s applications, Swissgrid is confident about the further construction of the line.

Swissgrid expects the new 380kV line from Chamoson to Chippis to be commissioned in summer 2022 (picture: Swissgrid)

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