Report: Solar energy can reduce Switzerland’s dependence on hydroelectricity | Techno Glob

The Zervreila reservoir in the canton of Grisons, south-eastern Switzerland. Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

A study has estimated to what extent a new solar infrastructure, combined with existing alpine dams, can help Switzerland avoid a winter energy shortage.

This content was published on October 28, 2022 – 15:27

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) reportedExternal link Friday on a quantitative model from two energy experts that analyzes how the interaction between solar and hydroelectricity in Switzerland could play out in the coming years.

It is estimated that the new solar panels – especially those high in the mountains, above the fog line – would produce most of their energy between February and May; precisely the period during which the level of the Alpine reservoirs drops.

More solar power in winter would thus allow the reservoirs to retain more water for emergency shortages: concretely, the recently approved plans to accelerate the construction of large-scale alpine solar parks could allow the reservoirs to breathe space to save up to 3 terawatt hours per year, or 19 days of Swiss energy needs.

Using solar energy when it is produced, and then taking advantage of the natural storage capacity of reservoirs, would also reduce the need to develop storage centers to cope with the unpredictable nature of solar energy, according to the study. However, the authors also noted that the practice of hydroelectric companies using all available water to sell excess electricity abroad would also have to end for this strategy to be effective.

Natural batteries

Alpine reservoirs are a key source – along with river power stations – of Swiss hydroelectricity, which accounts for 57% of national electricity production. The tanks in particular are like “batteries” that can be charged for the winter and then released as the country needs it, NZZ writing.

The summer months are used to fill the reservoirs, which reach their capacity in October-November, before gradually releasing the energy to reach their low point in April-May.

Earlier this week, Swiss mountain reservoirs were 85% full, 2.5 percentage points higher than the average for this time of year over the past two decades.

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