Grid Digitisation

«We need a grid that adapts flexibly»

Author: Silvia Zuber

Both the energy system and the transmission system are changing. Swissgrid is addressing the increasing complexity by taking strategic measures to modernise the grid and create a digitalised company.


In the interview

Nell Reimann
Nell Reimann

Head of Market at Swissgrid

Ms. Reimann, the energy system is changing. What lies ahead for Switzerland?

Nell Reimann: The aim of becoming a CO2-neutral country requires an overhaul of the energy system, which is a mammoth task. The rise of renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics, and to a lesser extent wind power, has brought about a paradigm shift in the energy sector. Electricity generation is becoming much more decentralised and volatile. The energy transition is also increasing electrification in various areas, which also increases electricity consumption. To transport and distribute this electricity, a grid that adapts flexibly to the pace of the transition is required. As the national electricity transmission company, Swissgrid will play an important role in bringing about this change. We’ll continue to develop the transmission system into the backbone of a greener energy system.

The whole of Europe is working on the transition. Does this involve cooperation between different countries?

Yes, and this has already been the case for a long time. As well as ensuring the domestic transport of electricity, the Swiss transmission grid also enables energy to be imported and exported as part of the active exchange of electricity between European countries. In this way, we can compensate for electricity shortages in the winter months, power plant failures or overproduction.

As the energy transition continues, this cooperation will become even more important. Electricity generation with renewable energies is decentralised and doesn’t always take place exactly when the electricity is needed. This volatility increases the complexity of the system. The energy transition can only succeed if we continue to work together throughout Europe.

Is this cooperation going well?

For many years, we worked together as equals. The fact is, however, that Switzerland is increasingly being excluded from European processes, committees and cooperation due to the lack of an electricity agreement. This creates risks for grid security and grid stability in Switzerland. If, for example, we had to implement the necessary stabilisation measures primarily with energy produced in Switzerland, the volume of electricity available to supply the Swiss population would decrease. Measures of this kind also lead to rising costs, which would be passed on to electricity consumers.

Swissgrid is addressing this situation from a technical standpoint by means of private contracts with individual European transmission system operators. However, these interim solutions are not an adequate long-term substitute for an electricity agreement.

European cooperation is essential for both Swiss and pan-European security of supply.

Nell Reimann

 
Where does the Swiss energy system stand in terms of the transition?

The transition is in full swing, but we need to step up a gear or two. The legal foundations are in place for expanding Swiss electricity generation using renewable energies, but we’re behind in certain areas: we need to create additional production capacities – particularly for the supply of electricity in the winter – and expand the grid infrastructure.

What about the transmission system?

The transmission system, or the entire grid, is the link between electricity generation and consumption, so it’s greatly affected by changes in the energy system. This has long been taken into account in our strategic plans to upgrade the transmission system. The federal authorisation and approval process carefully considers all construction measures, and it takes 15 to 30 years before a transmission line is put into operation. This means there’s a risk that the grid infrastructure won’t be able to keep pace with the ambitions of the energy transition.

What other challenges does Swissgrid face?

It’s important to explain that ensuring secure and stable operation of the transmission system requires that the production and consumption of electricity are in balance at all times. As mentioned, the production of renewable energies is not very predictable – it fluctuates depending on whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, so it’s our task to compensate for these fluctuations, otherwise the system will be thrown out of balance.

Can digitalisation help to get volatility under control?

Yes, digitalisation can certainly help to manage the increasing complexity of the energy system. We’re working on solutions. The Equigy crowd-balancing platform, for example, enables decentralised flexibility resources such as storage systems, electric cars, batteries or heat pumps to be integrated into the electricity system easily and scalably using blockchain technology.

Equigy is also the basis for another digitalisation project. Renewable energies and flexibility resources require even closer coordination between transmission system operators and distribution system operators. We’re conducting a joint pilot project with the energy supplier ewz to test more effective ways to coordinate the balancing of fluctuations in the grid.

Which other digitalisation projects are you working on?

All Swissgrid divisions are working on digitalisation projects. We’re paying close attention to photovoltaics, for instance, because the volume of electricity produced from this energy source is set to increase substantially. A pilot project is under way to improve the data basis for feeding photovoltaic energy into the grid. This data is used to better assess the impact of the photovoltaic feed-in on load flows and balancing, for example.

Another digitalisation project is investigating how to optimise and automate the decommissioning of grid elements. In order to evaluate the best time window for outages, their effects are simulated. We then plan the necessary measures in accordance with the results.

There’s a lot going on. What’s the outlook for Swissgrid in ten years’ time?

Digitalisation is driving the energy transition, so we’re working on developing Swissgrid into a digitalised company. However, having the right technical set-up and solutions is of little use if we don’t have the right skills to match within the company. We’ve identified which skills are needed and we’re now promoting them through further training. The digital transformation also requires changes in our corporate culture. As in other companies, Swissgrid will need an open mindset to integrate the changes caused by digitalisation into its way of working and thinking.


Energy Strategy 2050

Switzerland’s Energy Strategy 2050 envisages the gradual restructuring of the energy system in order to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The Energy Act aims to support the transition by means of the following measures:

  • Reduce per capita energy consumption by 43 percent from 2000 to 2035
  • Expand renewable energies
  • Exit gradually from nuclear energy

Author

Silvia Zuber
Silvia Zuber

Project Manager


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