Renewable – reliable – domestic!
Axpo is the largest producer of hydropower in Switzerland
In Switzerland 60 per cent of the electricity produced is generated from hydropower. This power is produced domestically, making it reliable, virtually CO2-freie, as well as storable and renewable. From a European perspective, Switzerland is a leader – only Norway, Austria and Island have a greater hydropower proportion in their power production portfolio. As the largest Swiss producer of hydropower, Axpo makes a substantial contribution to this top position!
A song by the German trio "3 Peheiros" makes light of all the ways one can use water: "Wasser ist zum Waschen da, falleri und fallera – auch zum Zähneputzen kann man es benutzen..." The older (German-speaking) generation will still be familiar with this amusing song from their childhood. The younger generation can listen in:
However, in Switzerland water is used for a lot more than the song suggests. With its generous alpine water reserves, Switzerland has a valuable resource for power generation at its disposal. After all, Switzerland is considered to be Europe’s water reservoir. In this country, water is the most important pillar of power production. Today some 1500 hydropower plants produce an average of 39,000 GWh of electricity per year, equalling 60 per cent of the electricity generated in Switzerland. Forty-eight per cent comes from storage power plants, 47.6 per cent from run-of-river power plants, and about 4.4 per cent from pumped storage power plants. About 63 per cent of this energy is generated in the mountain cantons of Uri, Grisons, Ticino and Wallis.
Hydropower is so to speak the „jack of all trades of energy sources". Power production from water is renewable and virtually CO2-free; hydropower can be stored and retrieved as needed. The technology is mature; the plants are stable and produce power reliably and continuously over several decades, and achieve a very high performance rate of up to 90 per cent. Hydropower has a market volume of about CHF 1.5 billion and represents an important sector of the Swiss energy industry. Hydropower is highly accepted by the general public as a means of energy production. In addition, water rates ensure that money flows back to the mountain regions to create jobs.
The significance of hydropower is explained in this video:
Swiss hydropower since 1879
Hydropower has been used for over 5000 years, in its beginnings primarily for agriculture. It became important – in Switzerland and elsewhere – for the operation of all kinds of mills. In 1866, thanks to Werner von Siemens and his invention of the electro-dynamic generator, hydropower was transformed into electrical energy for the first time. The first hydropower plant to produce electricity was built in Northumberland in 1880.
In Switzerland, the inventive hotel operator Johannes Badrutt installed the first electric lighting system powered by hydropower in one of his hotels in 1879. The first hydropower plants built by today’s Axpo were the Beznau run-of-river power plant in 1902, and Löntsch high-pressure hydropower plant in 1908. In the same year, the two power plants were connected with a 100-kilometre 27-kV line for the first time, establishing the foundation for a nationwide power grid in Switzerland.
Largest Swiss Producer
Today, Axpo is the largest producer of electricity from hydropower. Its power plants (owned and shareholdings) currently include some 60 plants such as the Limmern pumped storage plant, the Eglisau run-of-river power station or the Stroppel small hydroelectric plant (see graphic). They continuously produce base and peak energy and, in doing so, make a significant contribution to the coverage of peak consumption and grid stability.
Of course, reservoirs and power plants are always an intervention in nature, which poses major challenges for Axpo in terms of environmental impact. This includes aspects such as residual water volumes, hydro peaking and sedimentation caused by rapid water draining, negative effects on the landscape through dams, or impacts on water fauna and flora. For Axpo, a healthy balance between optimal power plant utilisation and the best possible environmental protection are important.
Owing to their high flexibility, hydropower is systemically relevant and considered the backbone of today’s high security of supply in Switzerland. In the event of a widespread blackout, they would be decisive: Return to service of the grid takes place through the feed-in of electricity from hydropower plants. They require very little energy to start producing power again and are thus considered „black start capable".
Hydropower is the main pillar of Swiss energy supply and will remain so upon adoption of the Energy Strategy 2050. The development potential for new plants in Switzerland is nearly exhausted. Today, higher production is mainly achieved through investments in efficiency enhancements.
However, hydropower is currently under pressure due to continued, low wholesale prices for electricity, and the required funding for investments needed to realise the development potential of hydropower according to the Federal Energy Strategy is lacking.
Money for hydropower
As a result, the Federal Government wants to support hydropower through various means in the first package of measures in the Energy Strategy 2050. This would include instruments such as adapted feed-in remuneration for new hydropower plants with a capacity up to 10 megawatts, as well as planned investment contributions for the refurbishment/upgrading of hydropower plants with a capacity of up to 10 MW. In addition, the power market model launched by Axpo with a CO2 tax on electricity consumed in Switzerland would help to correct today’s market distortion and make more money available for refurbishment and upgrading of domestic hydropower plants.
Here you can go to the Axpo hydropower plants in Switzerland. And this is an interactive map of the most important Swiss hydropower plants.