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Nothing less than energy for the whole of Europe is traded in Poschiavo in Graubünden. Market access trader Christian Kuhnert talks about the exciting side of electricity trading, the Italianness lived at Repower and why a mullet wig is part of everyday life.
With its 3,000 inhabitants, the village of Poschiavo in the southern part of Graubünden radiates serenity above all. People sip cappuccinos in the cafe on the main street while listening to birds chirping. But what many people do not know is that it is against this idyllic backdrop that market access traders like Christian Kuhnert ensure that electricity is traded smoothly throughout Europe. “It has to do with history,” explains Christian. The power station in Campocologno, with Lago di Poschiavo as its reservoir, was commissioned in 1906 and was the largest hydroelectric power station in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. “It is at the core of what we do. A hundred years ago, the water turbine was pulled into the power station by horse-drawn carts, and that machine is still running even today. That makes me proud.”
Wall Street atmosphere on the Via da Clalt
There is not much evidence of analogue working methods in the company building. Christian’s workstation is dominated by six screens. Numbers flash up and down, graphs show electricity prices around Europe, the daily newsfeed runs in the background, and people are talking loudly on the phone next to him: Welcome to “Wall Street” on the Via da Clalt. Working with five other market access traders, Christian ensures that Repower, the electricity producer, can manage electricity in the best possible way. “As an electricity trader, I represent my colleagues in power plant operations on the market. We will have to sell more electricity for them if they have more water in their storage power plants in the next few weeks. We can either do this via a platform, or we call customers all over Switzerland and ask if they would like to purchase more electricity on favourable terms.” The trader is particularly happy when people do not do their laundry at noon. “Every kilowatt hour that is saved makes me happy. When people save electricity, we at Repower can pump electricity or water at inexpensive hours around noon and then make it available to consumers in the evening when they consume more.”
The thing about Scottish meteorologists and mullet wigs
His day does not depend on numbers, but on the weather. In the morning, he and his team always call a meteorologist in Scotland. He tells them about the changing weather patterns all over Europe. “A southern frontal system in the Alps would mean a lot of rain for our power plants in the south. If we expect a lot of water, we have to produce more electricity to make room in the reservoir.” For the trained banker, this translates into calling customers and selling electricity. The other constant in Christian’s everyday life is his mullet wig, which he always keeps handy on his desk. “When I tell my colleagues that I am ‘going mullet’ and put on my wig, what I mean is I sell electricity on the market for the next two months and buy electricity for the next few years,” he says with a laugh. “Short in the front means too little power over the short term, and long in the back means too much power over the long term.”
First and foremost, trading also means having room to manoeuvre. “I make all decisions with the capital available. Because sustainability is very important to me, I buy a lot of electricity from solar plants, for example, and try to sell it on the market.” This freedom has both advantages and disadvantages. “On the one hand, I am very happy when a strategy works and I see my success, but on the other hand, it can be very frustrating when a political event, like a gas pipeline explosion in Austria, throws a spanner in the works. As a trader, you have to be able to live with unpredictable events.”
Biking through Graubünden in the morning, negotiating electricity prices in the afternoon
After graduating as an industrial engineer from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, he grabbed his mountain bike and rode through the Alps for a fortnight with his tent. At some point on his journey, the East German arrived in Poschiavo and saw Repower. “I did not even know that Repower was based in Poschiavo. Since I wanted to live in the mountains anyway, I applied, and a few months later, that is where I found myself. They asked me at the job interview how long I could imagine staying in Poschiavo. I told them then, two to three years. Now, I have already been here twelve years.”
The passionate biker gets his money’s worth at Repower, both personally and professionally. “The working hours are extremely flexible. If the weather is nice, we go out biking in the morning. We make that up by working longer in the evening.” The proximity to nature and the vibrant Italian spirit make Christian gush with enthusiasm. “Our staff is a diverse cultural group, many of whom have been with us for a long time. After work, we always have fun together, whether it is attending wine tastings, going biking or barbecuing in our huge garden.”
Now he is off to the garden for a short break to rest his eyes and clear his head. Afterwards, Christian will be back to his six screens to trade tomorrow’s electricity.