20.01.2023 | Over a hundred years of reliability: the key role of Axpo in Switzerland’s power supply

Security of supply: the Axpo top ten

Martin Stutz

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Electricity from the socket, any time, anywhere. That’s how we’ve always known it. Keeping it that way requires a number of factors to come together – electricity supply is a complex overall system. And as Switzerland’s largest electricity supplier, Axpo plays a key role. Here you can read about its ten most important contributions to our security of supply. 

1: Axpo is our country’s largest electricity supplier

With over 100 power plants, Axpo generates around 20 TWh of electricity in Switzerland each year – around 30% of Switzerland’s production. Its electricity mix is largely renewable and climate-friendly, with sources including hydropower, nuclear power, photovoltaics, wind and biomass. The transregional Axpo grid covers around 2,200 kilometres and is undergoing transformation to meet the challenges of our energy future. Approximately 6,000 employees ensure that the electricity is constantly flowing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – as they have for more than 100 years.

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2: Axpo invests in secure Swiss electricity supply

Every year, Switzerland’s largest electricity supplier spends hundreds of millions of francs on the construction, operation and maintenance of power plants and grids. To name just a few examples: the Linth-Limmern pump hydropower plant, the voltage increase of the Axpo grid, PV installations in the Alps and the lowlands, and audits of nuclear power plants. Over the last 10 years, 70% of these investments have been made in Switzerland. 

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3: Axpo combines the strengths of production and trading

When you produce electricity you need a consumer for the volume produced at any given moment – that’s where trading comes in. Remember, electricity cannot be stored in sufficient quantities. The combination of production and trading also facilitates customised power purchase agreements, in particular agreements for renewable energies. That’s because supply is becoming more challenging all the time; as the proportion of weather-dependent energy production increases, so does the volatility of prices. In short, this integrated business model brings added value and security of supply, and bolsters the energy transformation.

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4: Axpo is driving digitalisation

Robots in nuclear power plants, digitalised hydropower plants, drones assisting in grid maintenance, smart meters for all and automated auctions for balance energy – digitalisation is increasingly important in maintaining a robust electricity supply. Because security of supply is a complex overall system. We can’t store electricity in sufficient quantities, so electricity production and consumption have to be balanced at all times using real-time data – otherwise there is a real danger of electricity outages. As weather-dependent renewable energies expand, maintaining this balance will become increasingly challenging. This means that the digitalisation of core processes of electricity production, transmission, trading and distribution is crucial.

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5: Axpo is preparing the grid for our energy future

It’s a project spanning generations, with works already stretching back over three decades. The cost: a total amount in the billions. Which is a lot, but there’s a lot at stake, too. Axpo is increasing the voltage of its transregional grid – around 2,200 kilometres – from 50 kV to 100 kV. This upgrade doubles transmission efficiency and reduces grid losses by 75%. Robust, stable grid infrastructure is the foundation for secure electricity supply, especially in light of increased feed-in from weather-dependent renewable energies.

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6: Axpo has launched a solar offensive in Switzerland

If we want the energy transition to succeed in Switzerland, we need a massive, rapid expansion of renewable energies. Photovoltaics have great potential here. Major Alpine plants are particularly efficient producers in the colder part of the year, delivering urgently needed winter power. Axpo’s solar offensive is aiming to add around 4,200 PV plants – or over 1.2 gigawatts – in the Alps and the Swiss Plateau by 2030. That’s enough to cover the annual requirement for over 300,000 Swiss households. Following AlpinSolar, work is already under way on the next Alpine solar plant – NalpSolar.

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7: Axpo invests in the long-term operation of nuclear power plants

Nuclear energy is a transitional technology which contributes to Switzerland’s security of supply, giving the country time to reconfigure its electricity supply for greater use of renewable energies. That’s why Axpo invests in the long-term operation of nuclear power plants every year. This increases safety and in some cases energy output as well – at the Leibstadt nuclear power plant, for instance. Two major modernisation projects resulted in an additional 150 GWh production per year, which is about the same as the annual output of a large Swiss run-of-river power plant. 

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8: Axpo invests in future technologies

Batteries and hydrogen will be important elements in the energy supply of tomorrow. Battery storage systems increase security of supply in the transition to a carbon-free energy world. Hydrogen, with its climate-friendly production, significantly reduces CO2 emissions in industry and transport. Axpo has created dedicated departments for these two technologies, investing both in Switzerland and abroad. That includes marketing capacities from battery storage systems, setting up its own H2 plants and participating in companies that are developing power-to-X projects.

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9: Axpo is a leader in long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs)

PPAs are a mega-trend in the energy sector – and it’s easy to see why. To both producers and consumers they offer security and predictability. They are increasingly enabling renewable energy production without subsidies. That means they’re driving the energy transformation and supporting the battle against global warming. Axpo is a European leader in PPAs. And in Switzerland, too, PPAs are experiencing growth. Two recent examples – Denner draws solar power from AlpinSolar, while Nestlé gets hydropower from the Mauvoisin power plant, both of them under long-term purchase agreements. 

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10: Axpo is increasing security of supply with immediate measures

A mild winter to date may have eased the situation a little, but the overall risks to Switzerland’s electricity supply have increased in this period of crisis. Axpo responded back in summer and retained extra water in its reservoirs. Despite water shortages and heat, it managed to offset around 1 TWh of power from summer to winter. Axpo also postponed the refurbishment of its Gigerwald dam, boosting valuable winter electricity by a further 160 GWh. At the federal government’s temporary reserve power plant in Birr, Axpo provides services relating to fuel procurement, processing power plant requests and ensuring electricity supply. By pooling emergency electricity groups, Axpo and its subsidiary CKW are further consolidating security of supply in winter.

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