The safe supply of electricity cannot be taken for granted. Numerous specialists throughout Switzerland actively work to ensure that electricity reliably flows from the 220-volt power socket at home. The Grid Maintenance Managers at Swissgrid play an important role on the front line. They are responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of the lines and substations in their assigned area. Their tasks include inspecting the installations, planning and performing maintenance work, as well as budgeting, awarding contracts and supervising the implementation. Whenever damage or problems occur, such as after a storm, they are quickly on site to coordinate the repair work, because if one grid element in the extra-high voltage network fails, this places a higher strain on the others.
Regardless of whether a person has an academic background or several years of professional experience in a similar role: before a Grid Maintenance Manager at Swissgrid takes over responsibility for the maintenance of lines and substations, they need to complete a 12-month training phase. Responsibility for elements of the extra-high voltage grid is not work that can be improvised. When dealing with extra-high voltage, i.e. 220,000 or 380,000 volts, even the slightest inattention can have serious consequences.
The training is the same for everyone, regardless of their professional experience.
For this reason, Swissgrid requires potential future maintenance specialists to complete a very demanding training programme with internal and external courses. The focus is on the safety of persons and installations. At the end of the training, candidates have to take an oral examination. Only once they are deemed suitable can they start working in the field. In practice, the know-how and assistance of experienced colleagues are then essential.
Romano Rè recently graduated from the «Swissgrid Academy» after successfully passing the oral examination, and is now working in Castione. He is responsible for the substations in the Center region, which extends from Laufenburg (canton of Aargau) to Mendrisio (canton of Ticino). Before that, he worked for 15 years at the power plant operator Officine Idroelettriche della Maggia SA (Ofima).
«It was a very intense time», says Romano. «The training included nine «Safety training for experts» modules as well as the requirement to familiarise ourselves with all workflows and the countless tools. The tools are important for performing the activities assigned to Grid Maintenance Managers.» The training is the same for everyone, regardless of their professional experience. Not a problem for Romano Rè: «This has allowed me to refresh and consolidate my knowledge, which I consider as great added value.»
A Grid Maintenance Manager also needs to be familiar with the local installations for which they will be responsible after completing their training. «I was already familiar with some of the Swissgrid installations from my previous work experience in Ticino. This made things a lot easier for me», says Romano Rè. And, thanks to his professional experience, he already knows many of the colleagues from the sector. «I really appreciate the opportunity to exchange views and ideas», he says.
Christian Betschart also has many years of experience and previously worked in a similar role at Centralschweizerische Kraftwerke AG (CKW). He recently completed his training to become a Grid Maintenance Manager at Swissgrid. He works at the Laufenburg base and is responsible for the lines in the Center region. He began his training at Swissgrid in the autumn of 2019. For him, the content of the modules means learning new things as well as refreshing existing knowledge. This gives him a great level of security in his daily work, where safety has always been a top priority for him. «I think it’s important to integrate the aspect of safety in the planning stage, as this raises awareness amongst all participants early on», he explains. A great deal of knowledge is imparted in specific courses during the training, such as «Avalanches» and «Conduct in high alpine areas for Grid Maintenance Managers and Project Managers». Particularly in the topologically challenging, mountainous terrain in Central Switzerland, it is important that the Grid Maintenance Managers and service providers have theoretical and practical knowledge of the elementary alpine dangers. What actions need to be taken in the event of an avalanche or landslide? Where can risks of rockfalls be found? What influence does the weather have on the installations?
I think it’s important to integrate the aspect of safety in the planning stage.Christian Betschart, Swissgrid
Christian faced a trial by fire after just a few months at Swissgrid. In February 2020, he experienced how Swissgrid works in a challenging situation during storm Ciara, and he found this very instructive. Christian’s work at Swissgrid has also been heavily influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. No longer being able to see his work colleagues from one day to the next certainly did not make tackling the complex tasks any easier.
As the old saying goes, you never stop learning. This is particularly true for the Grid Maintenance Managers at Swissgrid. After graduating from the «Swissgrid Academy», they constantly meet for training and development activities, such as on the topic of working at heights. Because, when safety, human lives and the reliable supply of electricity are on the line, Swissgrid leaves nothing to chance.