With the completion of Alpine solar energy feasibility studies, the planning process starts now for the first free-field photovoltaic plant in Nalps

Since the Swiss Parliament removed legal barriers to the construction of large photovoltaic systems in the Alps in its autumn session, the electricity sector has been enjoying a new solar power boom. Basler & Hofmann has completed a systematic search for suitable sites for interested investors and has now been able to finalise feasibility studies for two sites. Enough renewable energy to supply around 28,000 households could be produced at these two sites alone every year, with the majority being produced during the winter months.

The new understanding about the importance of winter electricity generation in Switzerland has led to a surge in interest in solar power in the Alps. Alongside the installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems on existing infrastructures such as the Alpinsolar project on the Muttsee dam, Switzerland’s federal government and parliament have now also decided to subsidise the construction of free-field photovoltaic systems. By 2025, Alpine solar power systems are scheduled to be producing at least 2,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity per year thanks to streamlined approval processes and the new subsidies.

Renewable winter electricity from Switzerland

But why is it worthwhile to invest particularly in large-scale Alpine systems? “During the winter months, Alpine solar power plants generate around three times as much electricity as PV systems in the Swiss Plateau. The reasons for this are the location of the sites above fog level, reflections from the snow and the lower temperatures. What makes this particularly exciting for investors is that Switzerland is currently not yet able to satisfy increased demands for energy during the winter through internal power generation, which means that the country still needs to import electricity as a result”, explains Peter Schwer, Expert for Renewable Energies at Basler & Hofmann. According to him, interested energy providers and supply companies are rushing to get involved in the planning: “The best sites are now being allocated, and both the challenges in terms of meeting the winter electricity shortfall and the recent changes to the legal framework will reward swift actions”.

Together with one other site, Nalps in Graubünden promises enough electricity for 28,000 households

The photovoltaics team at Basler & Hofmann has already completed two feasibility studies and a systematic search for suitable sites, with further work currently under way. The results of the first two studies are highly promising: the two plants will be capable of generating around 112 GWh of electricity. This is enough energy to power a medium-sized Swiss town for a year. Axpo announced details of the first site on Tuesday 22 November 2022. Under the project name “Nalpsolar”, CKW – a subsidiary of Axpo – is planning to construct a plant in Nalps in the Graubünden region of Switzerland. The project enjoys unanimous support from the local council of Tujetsch. Together with local civil engineering and planning company Cavigelli Ingenieure AG, Basler & Hofmann has been appointed to carry out planning work and perform environmental impact assessments.

Feasibility studies highlight potential as well as risks

As part of the study, aspects of feasibility relating to land use planning, technical issues and economic considerations were assessed for the sites. There are quite a few things that need to be taken into account in the planning of PV systems in the Alpine region – including natural hazards such as avalanches or thawing permafrost, land development including roads/paths and connection to the grid, the complexity of laying foundations depending on the wind and snow pressure loads acting on the structures, and the technical design and construction of the elevation systems in order to keep solar panels snow-free during the winter. And, of course, social and ecological compatibility are two key issues. “We already clarify the impact of the planned projects on both the environment and the regional population in the early phase. However, we are convinced that there are enough sites where sufficient developments have already taken place in terms of other infrastructure to allow substantial PV potential to be unlocked in the Alpine region. By arranging the PV modules very carefully we can also minimise their visual impact and ensure that they are visually bedded into the landscape as well as is possible. This is where – at Basler & Hofmann – we benefit from our huge experience with realistic visualisations, which enable us to compare different variants very quickly”, explains Peter Schwer, before finally concluding: “It is really worthwhile coordinating with all the other stakeholders at the earliest possible opportunity. This is decisive for the acceptance and success of a project.”

Are you interested in Alpine photovoltaics? We would be glad to help you.

At Basler & Hofmann, we can offer investors and affected Cantons / local communities full advice on all aspects of the issues involved, and we can also provide full project planning services. Our experts are experienced in major infrastructure systems in the Alpine region and offer longstanding expertise in the areas of renewable energy, structural systems/support structures, environmental planning and geoinformatics.

Eric Langenskiöld, Technical Director Photovoltaics at Basler & Hofmann: Contact us