A dam that produces solar energy

What if dams were used for solar power and not just hydroelectric power?

This content was published on August 14, 2020 minutes

The wall of the Albigna dam in Graubünden, south-east Switzerland, will be partly covered with solar panels. Another in Val Bregaglia will be the first large-scale high-altitude solar power plant in the Alps.

Built sixty years ago, the Albigna dam will soon begin to produce solar energy as well. In recent weeks, over 1,200 photovoltaic panels have been installed on the wall of the dam at 2,165 metres above sea level.

With an annual output of around 500 megawatt hours the plant, owned by the Zurich municipal electricity company, EWZ,will be able to meet the electricity needs of 210 households. Compared to installations on flatter terrain in the Swiss Plateau,  those located in the mountains offer a better yield due to the higher intensity of solar radiation and the reflective properties of the snowpack. About half of the electricity will be produced during the winter.

The idea to install solar panels on the dam wall dates back decades, explained EWZ interim managing director Benedikt Loepfe. "The reason why we have only now built it is mainly financial," he told the Italian-language Swiss public television, RSI.

Currently, the sun provides around 4% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland. According to a study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, solar energy could cover more than 40% of national demand if all suitable surfaces such as building roofs were to be used.

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