25.05.2018 | Off to nature in the High Rhine region – to eleven hydropower plants

Water's power

The High Rhine region between Schaffhausen and Birsfelden (BL) is used intensively to produce electricity from hydropower. Eleven power plants with an installed capacity of 830 MW use the Rhine's current and produce an average of some 5 TWh of electricity. An excursion to the region is worthwhile not only to see the power plants. The area’s natural environment offers numerous highlights.  

It's about 126 kilometres between Schaffhausen and Basel where the Rhine flows mainly on the border between Switzerland and Germany. With a gradient totalling 145 metres from Lake Constance to Basel, the current is an optimal energy source. It's no small wonder that there are a total of eleven power plants in this area. With an installed capacity of 830 MW - 100 MW more than the Beznau nuclear power plant - they deliver some 5 TWh of electricity per year. There is no more space on this route for additional hydropower plants. Increasing performance, for example by replacing turbines, is only possible in a few of these plants.

KW Schaffhausen: built in 1967, it's the smallest hydro power plant at the Hochrhein (165 GWh per year)

KW Rheinau: is part of Axpo Power AG 50%, EnAlpin AG 42% und EnBW Energie Baden-Würtenberg AG 8%. The plant was built between 1952 and 1957. The annual electricity production ist around 237 GWh electricity

KW Eglisau-Glattfelden: The Axpo Hydro Power Plant is the most beautiful along the Hochrhein. No wonder it is protected as a historic monument. The yearly average production of electricity is 318 GWh

KW Reckingen: Axpo holds a 20 % stake of this hydro power plant. It was constructed from 1938 to 1941 and enlarged 1956. The annual production comes to 550 GWh

KW Albbruck-Doggern: Built between 1929 and 1933, the hydro power plant prdouces a annual average of 650 GWh, good enough for delivery to around 180'000 households with CO2-free electricity

KW Laufenburg: Constructed from 1909 till 1914 and twice modernised (the last time between 1988 and 1994), produces 700 GWh per average year

KW Säckingen: 25 % of this hydro power plant belong to Axpo. Start of construction 1961, start of production 1966. It's production is of 450 GWh in an average year.

KW Ryburg-Schwörstadt: Axpo holds a 13,5 % stake. It's the most powerful hydro power plant among these eleven with 120 MW and a production of 760 GWh per average year

KW Rheinfelden: The newest built, it produces electricity since 2010 only (600 GWh a year) and is one ot the most modern ones in Europe

KW Augst-Whylen: Constructed 1908 till 1912, modernised from 1990 to 1994. It produces 200 GWh

Kraftwerk Birsfelden: Built from 1951 onwards, start of production 1954 - a average yearly production of 560 GWh

However, not only the power plants along this route are of interest. Nature in the High Rhine area has a lot to offer. The route was upgraded through natural measures such as gravel banks, fish ladders, and, like at the Axpo Eglisau-Glattfelden power plant, even with a fish elevator.

Lot's to do. Fun guaranteed. Here are our 7 best tips for great getaways:

Hiking

The route along the Rhine is nearly 130 kilometres long. Of course, this is too much hiking for one day or a weekend. But a hike between Schaffhausen and Basel is very appealing - the path not only follows the river, it also leads through forests with high trees, offering hikers many quiet, close encounters with nature. The route can be covered in different stages and over a period of several days. Another good thing: There are numerous, welcoming pubs/bistros for thirsty hikers on the Swiss and German banks.

Rhine Falls

If someone wants to see the powerful force of the Rhine: The Rhine Falls where the river plunges down 23 metres and moves some 600,000 litres of water per second during the summer is the place to go. See more details here. Those who want a closer look at the falls are in for quite a shower. And those who prefer to stay dry can simply watch all the tourists from around the world...

Swimming

Swimming is the best way to experience the power of the Rhine first hand. Pack your bathing suit and off you go. Particularly beautiful: Take the boat at the Dachsen bathing area and travel to the Rhine Falls. And then swim back down the river to Dachsen. It takes about 20 minutes - so it's not something for folks who get chilly or for poor swimmers. And for safety's sake it's recommended to take along a life jacket or buoyancy aid.

Enjoyable ride

Everything flows, downwards - as does the Glatt River. Taking a bike ride along the route from Zurich down to the Rhine, past Axpo's Eglisau-Glattfelden facility, the most beautiful hydropower plant on the High Rhine, you won't feel much downward movement - it's a fairly flat stretch. However, the landscape is varied and the over 29-kilometre route leads past the taking off and landing aircraft at Zurich Airport in Kloten, past allotment gardens, over the old wooden and the new concrete bridges, and offers numerous pit stops (eating/drinking). Of course sports buffs bike all the way back as well. The less athletic can cross the power plant weir over to Germany and ride through the shady woodlands into Eglisau and take the S-train back home.

Slow boat

If you like it more relaxing, take a boat trip on the High Rhine. The most idyllic section is between Eglisau and Teufen Tössegg, where romantics and gourmets alike will get satisfication. Off you go to one of the most beautiful nature reserves on the Rhine.

Doing the rounds

The Rhine bank circuit is a treasure. The 6-kilometre long path snakes its way from the old Rhine Bridge at Rheinfelden to the new power plant. It's about 80 minutes to walk, and, of course, somewhat shorter if you take your bike. And the best thing about circuits is that you can do as many rounds as you want. Or you can spend some time on the German bank on the Natur-Energie-Weg (nature energy trail). Experience how nature and technology are linked together. The exhibition pavilion presents the history of how the old Rheinfeld power plant was built in 1899 and the impact its construction had on the region.

Bird watching

Our last tip takes us to Augst. At Augusta Raurica you can see "ancient Rome" and the nature reserve Altrhein Whylen/Ergolzmündung. A biotope built between 1908 and 1912 during construction of the power plant serves as the habitat for numerous animals and plants on 26 hectares. Rare wading and songbirds live along these shallow waters. Altrhein is also a stop for migratory birds on their way from the North to the South. The list of rare bird species is a long one: Purple heron, red-footed falcon, stilt, dove, and bluethroat - just to name a few. A true paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers.

You will find more tips on hiking in the High Rhine region here (including PDF hiking guide).

And: If you are more of a couch potato, you can take a virtual trip to the High Rhine: To the Säckingen power plant, to the Laufenburg power plant with an interesting look at hydropower.

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