The Innovative Floating High-Altitude Solar Farm in Swiss Alps

The Innovative Floating High-Altitude Solar Farm in Swiss Alps

High up the Swiss alps, a huge solar farm is working to supply a lot of energy to nearby towns. The solar farm we are talking about is not an ordinary solar farm, but it has its own uniqueness compared to the ones we often see on the land.

The solar farm developed by developer Romande Energie is floating on a lake instead of laying low on the ground. The solar panels are hovering over the lake like rafts and has begun floating since around December 2019.

This solar farm is part of the country’s plans to cut down the consumption of fossil fuel. This idea can be a great innovation in the future where the demand for clean energy is increasing, but the amount of land to put solar panels on is limited.

Because this is an interesting feat in energy generation, let’s talk about the floating solar panels up on the Swiss Alps in this article.

Harvesting The Alps

Swiss Alps Floating Solar Plant (Romande Energie)
Swiss Alps Floating Solar Plant (Romande Energie)

For the first time in history, floating solar farm is built up on the mountain. The solar farm is intended to harvest excess solar energy up there, while also utilizing the already present water dam that is used to harvest energy from water turbine.

The solar plant is located at Lac des Toules in between the Swiss Alps at the altitude of 1,800 meters above sea level. The addition of floating solar farms would mean that the energy harvesting process in the lake is just as efficient as possible.

“We came up with the idea in 2012 over a coffee,” said Guillaume Fuchs, the leader of the project. “We were thinking about ways we could use dams to produce more electricity. First, we considered wind power but there were too many constraints. So, then we looked into a project with floating solar panels.”

The lake itself has been an energy generator with hydropower station installed. Now, with floating solar farm as an addition, it means the lake produces more amount of green energy. Therefore, the amount of energy needed from fossil-fueled plants is reduced.

Even the prototype of this project has showed positive results of green energy generation. “The pilot project has more or less 800-megawatt hour energy production per year, which represents 225 households needs,” Fuchs told Euronews Green.

Lake Muttsee Solar Farm

View from Above Swiss Alps (Romande Energie)
View from Above Swiss Alps (Romande Energie)

Another project to include solar farm on Swiss alps is done by Swiss energy group Axpo and partner IWB. They built the floating solar farm in Lake Muttsee, Located 2,500 meters or around 8,200 feet above sea level in the Swiss Alps.

The solar farm is way beyond expectation, being able to produce 2.2 megawatt and supports nearby towns. Thanks to inspiration from the whole country’s residents, this project can give the country an alternative energy to the phased out nuclear power.

“We have a boom mainly in solar (panel installations) for small houses but not much else here in Switzerland. The idea (is) to have installations on other places as well, like here on a hydropower dam,” said Christian Heierli, project leader at Axpo, told Reuters in an interview.

There are around 5,000 solar modules installed in the solar plant. And when in full operation, the solar farm is projected to be able to transmit more than 3 million kilowatt hours of energy per year. With that amount of energy, the solar plant is hoped to perform pretty well in helping the country closing in the net zero target by 2050.

“With much of Switzerland’s potential for hydropower expansion already utilized and challenges facing near-term expansion of its wind and thermal energy, the country must focus on more large-scale solar projects,” said Heierli.

The Alps Special Features

Installation Floating Solar Plant (Romande Energie)
Installation Floating Solar Plant (Romande Energie)

Looking at how those two mega solar plant projects, some might wonder what’s with Swiss Alps that everyone seems like wanting to build solar plant high up there. Well, there is indeed something between the mountains and green energy generation.

There are three main factors which make solar powerplant high up there in the Alps more effective in creating energy compared to in lower altitudes, except in deserts. The factors are colder temperature, stronger UV rays, and reflection from snow.

Colder temperature is more preferable for solar plants because photovoltaic cells work more efficiently in colder weather, said Fuchs. That helped with reflection from snow means you get extra sunlight from high up there.

In addition to that, at that altitude of over 1,800 meters above sea level you will get less foggy weather compared to little bit lower attitude. This one feature is important especially when the area is welcoming winter every year.

“There is nothing new or exceptional about floating solar farms, and there are many examples around the world, but this is the first one that has to withstand the harsh climatic conditions of an Alpine winter. It stands as both an addition and a testament to Swiss expertise,” as explained by Karin Söderström, an energy research specialist at the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

Green Energy Harvesting

Assembly Process in Swiss Alps (Romande Energie)
Assembly Process in Swiss Alps (Romande Energie)

The pursue of green energy is happening all around the world, and Switzerland is one of the countries putting serious effort to do that. Like mentioned above, it was all done by Switzerland to reach net zero point by the year 2050.

“The Pilot and Demonstration programme promotes the development and testing of new technologies in the fields that will help us reach the goals of Switzerland’s 2050 energy strategy: the efficient and economical use of energy, the transmission and storage of energy and the use of renewable forms of energy,” said Söderström.

Currently, the mission is not to take any profit of the energy generation or making it economically beneficial to the developers. Instead, the mission is to produce as much green energy as possible first and the economical aspect will come later for sure.

“This programme helps to advance new technologies to a higher level of maturity so that they can eventually be taken to market, and we believe the Lac des Toules project meets the criteria for our support,” Söderström explained.



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