24 Apr Pursuing energy security at a national level: Visit to GE Vernova site in Birr

What does energy security mean to you? The INSEAD Alumni Association Switzerland’s visit to 250MW Temporary Reserve Power Plant (TRPP) at the GE Vernova site in Birr (Aargau, Switzerland) began with this question in mind.
Inevitably, the answers reflected the high expectations of the participants: energy security should ensure that demand is always met, and that the energy supplied is green, affordable, sustainable, and low-carbon.

BIRR past event

Several insights emerged from the discussion that followed the tour of the plant, focused on the realization that implementing energy security measures is not as easy as might be expected. The key takeaways were:

    • Energy security is conditional on several critical constraints. Only when such conditions were fulfilled, could the 250 MW TRPP be built at record speed (26 weeks). These conditions included political will at local and federal level, support from the local community, space availability, proximity to existing infrastructure (grid, gas pipelines, railway station, etc.), availability of equipment, technology and skilled professionals, smooth communication processes and substantial public financing.
    • Energy security does not necessarily mean carbon-free energy. Switzerland was dependent mainlyon hydroelectric and nuclear power generation until the Birr TRPP was built. The plant is capable of running on hydrogen, gas, or diesel. However, since there is no/insufficient hydrogen available in Switzerland, it is currently designed to run on gas or Now, fossil fuels are back in the picture. Gas is likely to play an important role in energy security for the years to come, not just in Switzerland, but globally too.
    • Energy security can require water. For each cubic meter of liquid fuel, the TRPP require approximately 1.4 m3 of demineralized water for various purposes, including the control of calorific value and emissions. In case of a crisis, water scarcity may become an issue.
    • Historically, Switzerland has played a leading role in developing advanced technologies in the energy sector. Brown Boveri’s “Neuchâtel Gas Turbine” – the first ever gas turbine, launched in 1939, and a true engineering masterpiece – is on display at the GE Vernova site in Birr.
    • Energy security is a universal concept, but how it is implemented may differ substantially by region, depending on the infrastructure and resources available, legislation, demand, etc. Therefore, solving the energy trilemma will lead to different outcomes in terms of affordability, reliability, and sustainability depending on the region.
    • Energy security is not just about energy supply but also about demand. Questions about the resilience of demand, its efficiency, and its elasticity are becoming increasingly relevant to achieve energy security targets.
    • A good starting point to appreciate what’s behind your electric socket is to take the time to go and visit a power plant. One can start appreciating the size and complexity of the energy system and the challenges of the energy transition when visiting its nodes and talk to its main actors. 

The INSEAD Energy Club Switzerland is extremely grateful to GE VERNOVA, particularly Yoshito Murakami and Dirk Ulrich for the incredible opportunity to visit the TPRR in Birr. Thank you to the curious-minded participants for engaging so passionately and constructively in the debate.  

Yoshito Murakami, GEMBA15, Chief Financial Officer, GE Power and GE Gas Power 

Marco Montefiori, MBA’05J, INSEAD Energy Club Switzerland President