Swissgrid’s first headquarters in Laufenburg (Canton of Aargau)

15 years of Swissgrid

The history of the founding of the national grid company

Author: Stephanie Bos


The year is 2004. While the Romanian song «Dragostea din teï» is taking the Swiss hit parade by storm, Chris von Rohr is demanding «Meh Dräck» and the construction of a second Gotthard tube is rejected by a clear majority in a referendum, seven Swiss power transmission companies found the present Swiss Transmission System Operator Swissgrid.

«Stop! Wait a minute! In 2004? Can’t they do their sums properly at Swissgrid? Surely this year can’t be the company’s 15th anniversary if Swissgrid was founded in 2004?» Please be patient, the story continues. We’ll solve the problem of the years in a moment.

Swissgrid’s first headquarters in Laufenburg (Canton of Aargau)
Swissgrid’s first headquarters in Laufenburg (Canton of Aargau)

So, back to 2004. Aare-Tessin AG (ATEL, today Alpiq), Berner Kraftwerke (BKW), Centralschweizerische Kraftwerke (CKW), Elektrizitätsgesellschaft Laufenburg (EGL, today part of Axpo), Energie Ouest Suisse (EOS), Nordostschweizerische Kraftwerke (NOK, today Axpo) and Elektrizitätswerk Zürich (EWZ) set up the Swiss national grid company Swissgrid in 2004 in response to the challenges of electricity market liberalisation in Europe. This took place without any legal basis requiring it. The establishment of a national grid company was considered a prerequisite for the bilateral negotiations with the EU regarding the electricity market. «The founding of Swissgrid is linked to the hope of maintaining and strengthening the country’s position as an important international electricity hub.» wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for example.

The founding of Swissgrid is linked to the hope of maintaining and strengthening the country’s position as an important international electricity hub.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

The founding of the company was followed by a two-year delay due to outstanding legal questions. A decision by the Federal Supreme Court finally clarified the situation and cleared the way for the establishment of Swissgrid. The big day arrived on 15 December 2006. This is the date that explains why Swissgrid’s 15th anniversary is in 2021. On this particular Friday, Swissgrid was able to start monitoring and controlling the extra-high-voltage grid at its headquarters in Laufenburg with a staff of 130. «With the operational launch of Swissgrid, we are setting a milestone in the Swiss electricity industry to ensure the security of the electricity supply in Switzerland and neighbouring countries and are thus taking an important step towards Europe.» announced the first CEO of Swissgrid, Hans-Peter Aebi. But the story does not end there, because there was still no legal basis for a national grid company. The extra-high-voltage grid is operated as a natural monopoly, which is why it needs legal regulation.

The «Star of Laufenburg» substation explains the choice of the company headquarters
The «Star of Laufenburg» substation explains the choice of the company headquarters

So let’s take a leap back in time to 2008. That’s when the legal basis for the national grid company, in the form of the Electricity Supply Act, came into force. It confirmed that an independent organisation, the national grid company Swissgrid was responsible for the secure, reliable and economic operation of the Swiss transmission grid. But that’s not all. According to the new law, the previous owners were required to legally separate the transmission grid areas from their other activities and transfer them to the Swiss transmission system operator Swissgrid by 1 January 2013. This was no easy task, with 6,700 kilometres of lines on the extra-high-voltage grid and several previous owners. The transaction was extremely complex, as the secure operation of the grid had to be guaranteed at all times. It is therefore not surprising that this transaction also required a lot of human resources: it involved over 100 employees from the electricity sector. «The grid transfer is a unique project in Swiss electricity history.» Swissgrid’s second CEO Pierre-Alain Graf emphasised at the time. «It represented a major challenge for all the participants over a period of three years and could only be successfully implemented thanks to the close cooperation between the different parties» he summarised.

For Switzerland's electricity future - Portrait of the national grid company (in German)

With the operational launch of Swissgrid, we are setting a milestone in the Swiss electricity industry.

Hans-Peter Aebi

When the company was entered in the commercial register on 3 January 2013, Swissgrid finally also became the new owner of the Swiss transmission grid. Since this date, Swissgrid has been fully responsible not only for the operation, but also for the maintenance, modernisation and expansion of the Swiss extra-high-voltage grid.

Transmission system
Since 2013, Swissgrid has been fully responsible for the 6,700 km of lines that make up the Swiss extra-high-voltage grid


Author

Stephanie Bos
Stephanie Bos

Communication Manager

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