Hydropower: the traditional renewable energy pillar of Switzerland’s electricity supply

On 29 August, the public will have an opportunity to visit around fifty hydropower schemes in Switzerland as part of the Hydropower Day organised by the Association suisse pour l’aménagement des eaux (ASAE). Alpiq will take part in the event by opening six of its schemes to the public. A generator of power in Switzerland that is over 50% derived from water, Alpiq is one of the country’s leading renewable energy players. The Group’s capital projects in this field, undertaken in the form of joint ventures with other companies, amount to around 2.8 billion Swiss francs in the long term. CHF 1.2 billion of which will be invested by Alpiq.

Hydropower Day, which takes place on 29 August will be marked by the opening to the public of around fifty schemes in Switzerland, six of them belonging to the Alpiq Group:

  • Grande Dixence dam (Grande Dixence SA, Valais)
  • Emosson dam (Electricite d'Emosson SA, Valais)
  • Veytaux power plant (Forces Motrices Hongrin-Leman SA, Vaud)
  • Gösgen run-of-river power plant (ATEL HYDRO, Soleure)
  • Murkart small hydropower plant (Isento AG, Thurgau)
  • Lucendro hydropower plant (ATEL HYDRO Ticino SA, Ticino).

Renewable energy pillar essential for national supply Thanks to its favourable topography and high rainfall, Switzerland has developed, since just after the war, electricity generating facilities that are mainly based on renewable sources and are carbon free. Today, hydropower accounts for 56% of the electricity generated in the country, i.e. some 38 billion kWh per year. Over half this generating volume is provided by storage power plants (peak energy) and the remainder by run-of-river power plants (band energy).

Flexible power complementing the growth of new renewables Storage dams – especially pump-turbine plants – are currently the only way of storing energy. Their great flexibility of production is therefore used to meet peaks in consumption and to control the Swiss and European energy grid. These energy control needs, that is, the energy needed to balance the power consumed and generated on the grid at all times, are continually growing, mainly due to the present and future development of new renewables in Switzerland and Europe. Wind and solar power plants, which are directly reliant on the weather, have an irregular pattern of power generation that must be topped up by control energy. Pump-turbine hydropower plants with their dams offer an immediate and efficient intermediate solution to make up the shortfall when production from those sources drops.

Growth potential of some 3 billion kWh According to swisselectric, Switzerland will have to cope with a production deficit of around 30 billion kWh by 2035, due to the scheduled closure of the Swiss nuclear power plants and the ending of the long-term import agreements. To remedy the shortage, the Swiss Confederation adopted an energy strategy in 2007 based on 4 pillars, one of which is the development of renewable forms of energy, and hydropower in particular. With a real development potential estimated at about 3 billion kWh, i.e. 10% of the forecast production deficit, hydropower will provide an indispensable but limited contribution. Meeting the Swiss energy challenge is therefore going to have to depend on the development of a diversified generating mix that includes the construction of big power plants, in line with the Swiss Federal Council’s strategy.

Hydropower: over 50% of Alpiq’s Swiss power generation Formed from the merger of two leading hydropower players in Switzerland, Alpiq meets one third of the country’s electricity needs. Its production on Swiss soil is over 50% hydro in origin. Almost 75% of the Group’s hydropower generating capacity, i.e. 2,160 MW, is in the heart of the Alps, in the Valais region. Alpiq operates 24 hydropower schemes, 18 storage plants, and 6 run-of-river plants.

Close to 3 billion Swiss francs of hydropower capital investment projects In Switzerland, Alpiq’s capital projects, undertaken in the form of joint ventures with other companies, amount to some CHF 2.8 billion Swiss francs in the long term, CHF 1.2 billion of which will be invested by Alpiq. 84% of the total spend, or close to CHF 2.4 billion, concerns the construction of new facilities and the remainder, or some CHF 440 million, concerns the renovation of existing schemes.