The primary purpose of special grid operating gas turbine power plants is to ensure grid stability and reliable power supply – should renewable energy sources not be able to cope with demand. Here is a first look at a new state-of-the-art plant in Leipheim, Germany.

On behalf of the energy company LEAG, Siemens Energy recently completed the construction of a new turnkey gas power plant in Leipheim, in the southwest of Bavaria. The facility can be remotely ramped up within 30 minutes to an electrical capacity of up to 300 MW.

Dedicated solely to maintaining the safety and reliability of the transmission network, it does not participate in the free electricity market. The project has the sole purpose of stabilizing southern Germany’s energy supply in case there is not enough power from wind or the sun or other dispatchable generation.

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Grid stability and a secure energy supply

On his morning shift at the Leipheim gas plant, Vinzenz Hannig first checks the operational parameters of the aggregates, pumps, cooling systems, and other components. If the temperatures aren’t right, for example, he contacts the Siemens Energy Remote Monitoring Service Center in Erlangen. From there, the plant can be operated, monitored and serviced using state-of-the-art AI and augmented reality. According to Hanning “We consult on what to do. The facility must constantly be ready to power up to 300 megawatts within 30 minutes. And that’s what we’re there for.”

“We”, in this case, refers to a team of just three people on the location ensuring that the facility can supply power if a contingency should arise. Hannig has a degree in electrical and automation engineering. For sixteen years, he traveled the world on behalf of Siemens Energy to install turbines and maintain facilities. He and his colleagues are all-rounders who ensure optimal management and maintenance with intimate knowledge of complex power plants.

A small crew makes sure remotely operated plant ramps up  to 300MW in 30 minutes
Work at the Leipheim plant

Gas turbine power plants to back-up renewables

Gas-powered plants such as the one at Leipheim, called “special grid reserve power plants” (in German “besondere netztechnische Betriebsmittel” or bnBm’s), have important roles in the German energy transition following the complete phasing out of nuclear power, and in anticipation of a coal phase-out. Even though Germany now derives over 50 percent of its electricity from renewables, some problems still remain with power generation from wind and solar energy – especially during the autumn and winter season. This power plant will create a balanced energy flow for supply shortfalls on days when there is not enough power generation capacity available.

“For us, the Leipheim gas power plant is a forward-looking project,” says Thorsten Kramer, CEO of LEAG. “As an energy supplier, we want to ensure grid stability and security of supply to facilitate the energy transition. This means abandoning lignite coal, embracing PV and wind, and ultimately electrolysis.” The future of green energy, he believes, is hydrogen, “However, until that becomes feasible, we will require next-generation gas plants as indispensable interim solutions. Wind and solar power are simply not available around the clock.”

With its project in Leipheim, the company, which operates mainly in the  Lusatia region of Germany, underscores its desire to operate nationwide in the future. It is already the third grid-stabilizing gas turbine power plant in LEAG’s portfolio. Until 2030, the corporation wants to invest up to €10 billion in its “Green Baseload” energy transition model. According to Kramer, this ambitious plan relies on building and operating innovative low-emissions/H2-ready gas plants that can be quickly ramped up and powered down.

Portrait of Thorsten Kramer, CEO of LEAG

As an energy supplier, we want to ensure grid stability and security of supply to facilitate the energy transition.

Thorsten Kramer


More new gas plants needed

Studies have shown that Germany needs to build new gas-powered plants with a total capacity of between 23 and 43 GW to phase out nuclear/coal without endangering the security of supply. “For now, we can’t avoid natural gas,” Kramer explains, “The turbine and combustion technology is highly efficient,” high-performance peaker plants with operational flexibility have 65 percent less CO2 emissions than facilities burning coal in average.

The Leipheim project is important to LEAG for another reason, Kramer notes, “We want to learn how such innovative high-performance plants can become even more profitable and efficient. This is why we chose a project that is not on our own doorstep and where optimal collaboration between network operators and facility management is crucial.”

A small crew of operators maintain the Leipheim plant.

The power plant will make up for supply shortfalls on days when there is not enough generation capacity available.

Digital learning for a green future

This approach helped determine the choice of Siemens Energy solutions, he says. “Already during the preliminary talks, we benefited enormously from their great professional input. They handled the contracting, and Siemens Energy is also taking care of operational management on location. We anticipate that their experience with digital solutions of such complex projects will improve our learning curve. Finally, the entire project was implemented faster than planned. That’s evidence of good collaboration.”

Olaf Kreyenberg, Vice President Gas Services Sales Europe at Siemens Energy concurs. “Today’s operational framework simply doesn’t allow us to plan and think in ten-year rhythms anymore. Given geopolitical developments and the urgency of the energy transition, we need to plan and realize projects much faster to facilitate the necessary expansion of plant capacity.”

A puzzle piece for net zero

Kreyenberg points out this can only be achieved in partnership and cooperation with customers along with political and administrative decision makers, “Especially with regard to regulatory legislative frameworks, we need local authorities to deliver reliable guidelines and quick decisions.” In this context, as Kreyenberg emphasizes, Leipheim is just one of many puzzle pieces – one that is also geared toward Siemens Energy’s international market and that can be deployed anywhere where innovative energy technologies are required for a greener future.

Ultimately, it’s about facilitating the efficient interplay of technical and commercial management in the interests of economic viability and security of supply. “This is precisely where our digital solutions can help. Both our customers and we ourselves can learn from the data that we collect,” Kreyenberg pauses briefly before continuing, “with this gas power plant, we want to demonstrate that a measure of self-confidence is needed if we are to advance boldly to the future.”

The Leipheim plant exterior

The facility can be remotely ramped up within 30 minutes to an electrical capacity of up to 300 MW.

March, 2024

About the author: For two decades Berlin-based Ingo Petz has covered Eastern Europe for publications such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Standard.

Combined picture and video credits: Stefan Hobmaier