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Extra-high voltage for the temporary reserve power plant in Birr

The grid connection for the Birr reserve power plant has been ready since 24 February 2023. Swissgrid set up the grid connection in record time. The Federal Council has enacted various measures to increase security of supply in winter. Among other things, it has tasked Swissgrid with establishing the grid connection for the Birr reserve power plant.

The Confederation is taking various measures to strengthen Switzerland’s supply of energy in the event of a power shortage. These measures include reserve power plants. A reserve power plant of this kind, consisting of eight modular, mobile gas turbines, each with around 30 megawatts of power, totalling almost 250 MW, is being installed on the premises of General Electric (GE) in Birr (AG). The turbines can be operated with various gaseous and liquid fuels. The Federal Council has issued an ordinance to govern the deployment of these reserve power plants. The use of energy is managed by Swissgrid. These energy reserves can be used as needed in extraordinary shortage situations until the end of April 2026.

A grid connection in record time

Swissgrid had to establish a new grid connection in order to feed the energy from the mobile gas turbines into the transmission system via the 220 kV substation in Birr. The grid connection for the Birr reserve power plant has been ready since 24 February 2023. Swissgrid took less than six months to set up the grid connection, which is something that usually requires several years. Implementing a project of this kind under extreme pressure in just a few months was a huge challenge for the project team and the commissioned suppliers and service providers. Firstly, it required the corresponding infrastructure components such as switchgear and lines. In addition, before the Birr reserve power plant was commissioned, extensive contractual negotiations on operational aspects in relation to the reserve power plant were necessary with the federal government and the operating company within a short period of time. Keeping people safe was the highest priority for Swissgrid. Everything was done to ensure that occupational safety was guaranteed at all times.

The power produced from the mobile gas turbines is transformed by means of transformers to the operating voltage of 220 kV for the transmission of electricity. A gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) with two transformer bays and one line bay was installed on GE’s premises. The grid connection for the new reserve power plant will be combined with an existing grid connection to a nearby test turbine in Birr this winter. A new 220 kV cable connection from the GE premises to the new Swissgrid switchgear has been built for this purpose. The investment for the entire project amounts to around 16 million Swiss francs.

A secure supply of energy for Switzerland

The Federal Council has enacted various measures to strengthen the winter energy supply in the short term and has assigned new roles to Swissgrid.

  • Hydropower reserve: The Federal Council has decided to establish a hydropower reserve for the coming winter. In exchange for a fee, storage power plants will retain a certain amount of energy that can then be requested when needed. This is the hydropower reserve. The reserve is intended to bridge a period of a few weeks towards the end of winter when there are fewer import possibilities and lower availability of domestic electricity generation.
  • Emergency power groups: Emergency power groups are bundled into virtual power plants. As with the hydropower reserve, Swissgrid is responsible for the operational management of the use of energy from the emergency power groups.
  • Voltage increase on the Bickigen – Chippis and Bassecourt – Mühleberg lines: To prevent congestion in the transmission system, the Federal Council is allowing a temporary increase in the operating voltage of the two transmission lines between Bickigen and Chippis (Gemmi line) and Bassecourt and Mühleberg from 220 kV to 380 kV in the period from January to April 2023. Test operation is taking place on both lines until the end of February 2023.
  • Reserve power plants: As well as setting up the grid connection for the reserve power plant in Birr, Swissgrid is responsible for the management of the use of energy from the reserve power plants.

In accordance with the ordinance, the costs for all the winter reserves listed above are financed by Swissgrid via a new surcharge on the grid tariff. This means that they are borne by all Swiss electricity consumers according to their consumption.

In the medium and long term, further measures may be introduced to effectively counteract shortages of electricity. Swissgrid has developed solutions in association with the authorities and the industry. They include building additional domestic production capacity, accelerating procedures for the necessary expansion of production plants and grid infrastructure, and negotiating an electricity agreement with the EU. Swissgrid is working closely with partners in Switzerland and abroad and doing everything in its power to contribute to Switzerland’s secure and reliable supply of electricity.



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