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Pumping power in the Alps

ABB is providing a plant automation solution for one of the biggest and most innovative power projects ever to be built in the Alps.

Building a power plant in the middle of a mountain, 2,000 meters above sea level, is a huge undertaking. It also takes a long time.

Construction of the Nant de Drance pumped storage power plant in Switzerland began in 2008, and is not scheduled to finish until 2018, ten years later. It is one of the biggest and most challenging power projects ever to be built in the Swiss Alps.

The project involves raising the level of an existing reservoir dam by 20 meters, drilling 17 kilometers of tunnels and excavating a vast underground cavern for the turbines and machinery.

Nant de Drance will have a generating capacity of 900 megawatts, which is enough to power 625,000 European homes. The plant’s primary purpose is to help stabilize the European transmission network by rapidly releasing energy into the network to counter fluctuations in supply from wind and solar power plants.

At night and during periods of low demand the plant will pump water uphill from the reservoir to a second reservoir where it will be stored until needed. The water is released - usually at peak demand - and runs downhill to the turbines to generate power, which is then transferred into the
grid.

Distributed control

ABB was selected by the plant’s owners, also known as Nant de Drance, to supply a plant automation system to control the entire production process at the plant, which is spread out over several sites, most of which are underground.

Nant de Drance chose ABB for its long track record in supplying automation systems for hydropower plants and particularly for pumped storage power plants all over the world.

The ABB solution will integrate the numerous plant subsystems with international standard interfaces like IEC 61850 and IEC 60870, and enable remote monitoring from a control center in Lausanne, 70 km away. High integrity ABB controllers will prevent damage caused by hardware defects or software errors from impacting plant operation. The solution will also meet the customer’s requirement for an automation system that will evolve over the lifetime of the plant.

System evolution is a key feature and differentiator of all ABB automation systems. ABB continually evolves its automation platforms by developing new products and functionalities and by ensuring that they are compatible with previous generations of the platforms. This protects the customer’s investments in the system and in their intellectual capital such as engineering and staff expertise.

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