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A ‘solar forest’ for Gondo

Gondo-Zwischbergen / Brig – The Gondosolar project is approaching the planning application stage. It relies on photovoltaic panels in the form of a solar tree. This innovative system promises a minimum environmental footprint with a high yield at the same time. The electorate of Zwischbergen also approved once again the construction of the photovoltaic system at yesterday’s municipal meeting and voted in favour of a 35 per cent financial stakeholding in the project. The building permit for the project will be submitted in July 2023.

Gondosolar’s project partners are focussed on optimal integration into the sensitive alpine landscape and soil protection. The difficult-to-access area, uneven subsoil and requirement to carry out as little earthwork as possible have tipped the scales in favour of the new system design: the PV panels are now designed in a tree-like structure and shaped like a forest. Until now, inclined steel tables facing south were planned. In addition to the environmental impact, the geographical conditions have also played a decisive role: the ‘solar trees’ can better counteract the heavy snow drifts on the Alpjerung. This is because the Gondosolar project area is exposed to fierce winds in winter, which can lead to snow drifts with the risk of snow accumulating in open spaces.

 

‘Solar tree’ design

The tree structure solution draws on the experience of avalanche barriers. The shape mimics the so-called baffle, which is known and proven to create wind turbulence that blows snow out of the structure’s base and lower ‘arms.’ For this purpose, 16 bifacial PV panels are mounted crosswise on a vertical mast, creating a tree-like structure. Integration into the sensitive alpine landscape has been vastly improved with the Gondosolar ‘solar trees,’ as they are like a clear mountain forest. For the innovative new system design, the project team has worked intensively with a natural hazards consultant and a PV technology consultant over the past few months. A demonstration model installed in the Austrian mountains has shown that the arrangement is promising. It will now be further investigated with a test facility comprising several ‘solar trees.’

 

Municipality participates in the project

On 18 June, the municipal assembly in Zwischbergen held a ballot with a positive outcome for the Gondosolar project. Not only did the population vote clearly in favour of the construction of the photovoltaic system, they also agreed to the use of the plots for the plant and will continue to participate with a 35 per cent capital stake in the project sponsorship. The approvalrate was 100 per cent and testifies to the broad acceptance the project enjoys. Municipality president Daniel Squaratti has spoken about the outcome of the vote: “We have been in talks with the project partners for a long time and have planned and supported the Gondosolar project from the very beginning. The fact that the municipality is now also contributing financially to the project clearly shows once again that the local population backs the project.” The project initiator Renato Jordan, who owns the Alpjerung plot, is also still actively involved. The building permit application for the Gondosolar project will now be submitted by the project sponsors in July 2023.

 

Political will for urgently needed winter electricity

The expansion of renewable winter electricity is an essential part of strengthening Switzerland’s security of supply. The risk of an energy shortage will increase further in the coming winters. With this in mind, the national parliament launched the urgent federal law on alpine PV installations, the ‘Solar Express,’ in autumn 2022. The message to the sector is clear: where possible, suitable locations should be found to provide alpine solar energy for the winter months. The legal basis required for cantonal authorisation, the ‘decree,’ has existed in the canton of Valais since March 2023. A referendum has been launched against it, and it will be put to the vote on 10 September 2023. If the people of Valais approve the decree, this will increase the likelihood of Gondosolar and other alpine PV projects being implemented, as it will speed up the procedures. However, regardless of the outcome of the vote, Gondosolar’s partners are continuing to develop the project – which is important for strengthening the security of supply in Valais – with the aim of completing it as soon as possible. According to information from the canton, the project sponsors should expect a building permit to be granted in May/June 2024 if the project meets the conditions. Gondosolar is following the specified processes and doing everything it can to meet the canton’s requirements as quickly as possible.

 

Power production from renewable energy is a tradition in Gondo

The production of electricity from renewable energies goes back more than 100 years on the south side of the Simplon Pass. EES currently produces around 250 million kWh of electricity from hydropower at its Gondo, Gabi and Tannuwald power plants. The shareholders of EES, Alpiq (81.97%), EnAlpin (10.79%), EWBN (3.06%), FMV (2.68%) and private shareholders (1.5%) are continuously investing in the optimal use of renewable energies – in the future also in photovoltaics with local partners through the Gondosolar project.

 


 

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