- EPFL study claims Switzerland can benefit from greater increase of new wind and solar power capacity to become energy self-sufficient
- For solar power, they see potential in its deployment in the Alps for which existing hydropower transmission infrastructure can be used
- Rooftop solar deployment in the lowlands won’t make much sense since the area is persistently under cloud cover during winters
- Jura region is suggested as best suited for wind power generation, especially in its uninhibited regions
If Switzerland can establish new capacity in a ratio of 75% wind power and 25% solar power in its alpine regions, it would be the most effective way for the country to become carbon neutral and energy self-sufficient, according to the optimal scenario suggested in a Swiss university, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) study.
Conducted by the EPFL’s Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences (CRYOS) and WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, the study stresses that all this solar and wind power capacity can supplement the country’s existing hydropower facilities.
To make these recommendations, the researchers factored in various topographies, microclimates, hydropower storage potential to figure out which renewable energy is best suited for which region, and how it can be traded with neighboring countries. Calculations were based on meteorological and satellite data while also looking into the country’s current hydropower infrastructure.
The researchers explain that they designed the model for Switzerland’s planned power grid in 2025 to ensure the country’s entire power system remains operational.
The details were down to conducting a granular analysis of the country’s landscape and they configured their model to maintain a distance of at least 500 meters between the newly built wind turbines and homes, steering clear of glaciers, steep slopes, forests and national parks.
For solar panels, the team concentrated to exclude northern orientations. They also figured that installing rooftop solar panels in lowlands won’t be effective since there is persistent cloud cover here in winters. However, their findings also claim that there could be real benefits, including from an economic view with the deployment of solar panels in the Alps where there is already abundant hydropower infrastructure that can be used to send solar power to the grid.
“Our study shows that adding solar capacity in the Alps to capture winter sunlight, and combining that with the hydropower already being generated, could cut the amount of energy Switzerland has to import in the winter by some 80%,” explains Co-Author, Professor at EPFL and head of CRYOS, Michael Lehning.
For wind power generation, the team found the Jura region best suited especially for its uninhibited regions.
In summary, the team found, “For Switzerland, installing 29.63 km2 (4.44 GW) of PV panels and 4438 wind turbines (13.40 GW) in the specific locations identified by our model reduces the mismatch between generation and demand, via the optimized support from hydroprower, to the lowest possible amount. This better alignment with demand and complementarity between PV, wind and hydropower reduce the requirements for supplementary seasonal storage and the reliance on foreign exchanges at times when many neighboring countries will face similar challenges of overproduction and deficits.”
However, the researchers know the policymakers’ reluctance to go in for a ‘radical’ option to pump up solar and wind power capacity as suggested. “We know our optimal scenario is provocative, but we wanted to map out a full strategy and suggest the most effective path to take, even if it seems radical,” said the study’s Lead Author and a PhD student in Environmental Science and Engineering at CRYOS. “Policymakers will surely choose a middle-ground option between our optimal scenario and the status quo.”
The findings, supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, have found their way in the Environmental Research Letters under the title Synergistic optimization of renewable energy installations through evolution strategy.
Switzerland’s Alpine region with its mountainous and practically inhospitable conditions to sustain human life is being explored by several players to host solar panels. Swiss energy utility Axpo Holding claims to be building a 2.2 MW solar system as the country’s ‘largest’ Alpine solar power plant. In April 2020, another local electricity utility EWZ said it will start construction on a 410 kW solar project in Albigna Dam in Bergell, also in the Alpine region (see 2.2 MW Solar Power Plant On Swiss Dam Secures PPA).