Together with IWB, Axpo has realised Switzerland's largest alpine solar plant at 2500 metres above sea level. The plant has been fully operational since the end of August 2022. The pioneering AlpinSolar project produces 3.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year - half of it in winter. In this way, we use solar energy at any time of year and despite the sea of fog.
The Muttsee dam is extremely well suited for a photovoltaic plant thanks to its existing infrastructure, its orientation and its altitude:
Denner, Switzerland's largest discounter, purchases the alpine solar power from Axpo under a power purchase agreement (PPA) for the first 20 years after commissioning. Denner is thus consistently pursuing its ambitious sustainability goals and is supplying its retail outlets and offices with 100% renewable and local electricity.
In its fall session 2022, the Federal Parliament created the prerequisites for the fast expansion of ground-mounted PV plants with higher winter production in its “Urgent measures for the short-term provision of reliable power supply in winter" (amendment to the Energy Act). The simplified approval process and additional subsidies will be in force until the end of 2025 or until a total annual production of 2 TWh has been reached. With the urgent measures, the Swiss Parliament has generated a welcome short-term impulse for alpine plants.
More viable framework conditions for the expansion of renewable power production will remain important beyond the year 2025. For example, PV ground-mounted plants will require a solution that goes beyond these urgent measures. In the wake of the blanket ordinance, framework conditions for all renewable energies must be improved to create more momentum for the expansion of domestic power capacities, particularly, the simplification and acceleration of approval processes.
By 2050, Switzerland must develop about 50 terawatt-hours. The Axpo model foresees a mix of various production technologies and a fundamental technology impartiality in order to master this enormous challenge.
Switzerland produces significantly less electricity in winter than it consumes. So there is a shortage of electricity in winter, which has to be imported. And this fact is likely to increase significantly over the next few years as nuclear and coal-fired power plants are taken off the grid at home and abroad.
It is therefore important to find solutions to produce additional electricity from renewable sources in winter. The large-scale alpine solar plant in the Glarus Alps makes a contribution to this: it produces around three times more electricity in the winter months than a comparable solar plant in the Swiss midlands.
Solar panels in the Swiss midlands are often under a blanket of fog during the winter months - at high altitudes there is much less fog and thus more solar radiation. In addition, solar panels like it cold. The efficiency of solar modules is higher at low temperatures than when it is hot. And finally, the sunlight is reflected by the snow cover, which leads to a higher solar power yield. This is called the "albedo effect". In addition, the angle of inclination of the dam is optimal for solar power production in winter.
The full operation of AlpinSolar also marks the start of scientific research work by the Snow and Avalanche Institute (SLF) and the EPFL technical university. Over a period of four years, empirical values and data on the system will be collected, which can serve as a basis for future systems in the alpine region. The testing of different panel types, the comparison of different panel inclination angles on the dam and data on wind and snow loads are also part of the research.