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Study sees untapped solar and wind energy potential in the Alps

Wind turbines have already been installed in some parts of the Jura Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Installing wind turbines and solar panels in Alpine regions is the most effective way for Switzerland to become carbon neutral and energy self-sufficient, a study has concluded.

This content was published on May 28, 2021 - 10:54
EPFL/SWI swissinfo.ch/ilj

The “optimal scenario” suggests adding new capacity in a ratio of 75% wind power and 25% solar power to supplement the country’s existing hydropower facilities, scientists have said.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.External link

“We know our optimal scenario is provocative, but we wanted to map out a full strategy and suggest the most effective path to take, even if it seems radical,” says Jérôme Dujardin, the study’s lead author.

Currently, electricity produced within Switzerland is 56.4% hydroelectric, 35.2% nuclear and 2.6% fossil fuel-generated. Just under 6% comes from new renewable energies including wind and sun power.

Wind and solar potential

Jura was found to be the region with the most potential for wind-power generation – the model suggests locating 40% of the country’s new wind turbines there.

Sun power is also a good choice for the Alps, also economically, said Michael Lehning, a study coauthor.

“The Alps get a lot of sunshine in the winter, and the hydropower infrastructure that’s already in place could be used to transmit solar energy to the main grid. That’s also true for wind energy, whose considerable potential in the Alps is still largely untapped, and partially unknown due to the mountains’ complex topography.”

The study used a new method for finding out what kind of renewable energy is best suited for specific region using topographies, microclimates, hydropower storage potential, and how electricity can be traded with neighbouring countries. Also taken into consideration: meterological and satellite data and current hydropower infrastructure.

The model was designed for Switzerland’s planned power grid in 2025 to make sure that the country’s entire power system remained operational.

Exploring opportunities

Lehning says the findings should help policymakers to explore green energy opportunities.

“Switzerland has abundant hydropower in the summer, but that’s not the season when it’s needed most – especially given the growing number of people who are installing solar panels on rooftops. Our study shows that adding solar capacity in the Alps to capture winter sunlight, and combining that with the hydropower already being generated, could cut the amount of energy Switzerland has to import in the winter by some 80%,” he said. 

Last year, a study by the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES) found the Swiss to be among worst solar and wind performers in Europe.

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