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Electricity firms on the hunt for Alpine solar opportunities

Mountain panels in southern Switzerland: a (somewhat small) taste of what’s to come. © Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Since parliament passed a law easing the regulations for building high-altitude solar parks, seven big Swiss electricity companies have started looking around for options, writes the NZZ am Sonntag.

This content was published on October 9, 2022 - 15:40
NZZ/RTS/dos

The newspaper reportedExternal link on Sunday that the companies, from various cantons across the country, have signed contracts with the Solalpine interest group, whose vice-president Renato Tami is the former director of the Swiss Federal Electricity Commission (Elcom).

Solalpine’s goal is to scout the country for up to 10 possible locations for vast high-altitude solar parks, before launching discussions with local authorities, citizens, and stakeholders, the paper wrote. After conducting a feasibility and pricing study, it would then “sell” the project to one of the electricity companies, which would then apply for planning permission before starting work.

Alpine locations are the preferred choice because of the good year-round sun exposure above the “fog line”. In Switzerland’s lower-lying areas, the NZZ writes, frequent winter fog means solar panels produce just one-quarter of their annual output in the winter months; in the mountains, this proportion climbs to a half.

No specific location for the mountain solar projects has yet been named, but Tami told the NZZ he is confident that a first one will be announced this month.

He also said the projects would be “as well integrated as possible into the landscape”, with space left for cows to graze, for example.

Solar offensive

At the end of September, parliament approved the “solar offensive” bill, aiming to speed up the construction of solar parks to help avoid winter energy shortages. The bill reduces the hurdles for construction of big mountain solar projects – including strict environmental regulations – and offers generous subsidies.

Parliament wants the Alpine solar parks to contribute 2,000 gigawatt hours (gWh) per year by the end of 2025. The total annual Swiss electricity consumption is some 58,000 gWh. Hydro-electric plants are the motor of electricity production in the country, contributing about 60%; solar made up 6% of production in 2021.

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