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Switzerland's solar dam: Why are mountains and snow the perfect mix for solar energy?

The AlpinSolar power plant of Swiss Axpo energy company on the dam of Lake Muttsee, near Linthal, Switzerland.
The AlpinSolar power plant of Swiss Axpo energy company on the dam of Lake Muttsee, near Linthal, Switzerland. Copyright REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Copyright REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
By Angela Symons with Reuters
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The dam's almost 5,000 solar panels enough energy each year to supply around 700 houses.

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A snaking wall of solar panels has been attached to Switzerland's longest dam. The solar dam is helping the landlocked nation maximise its green energy production in the winter months.

The Lake Muttsee dam, in the central Swiss canton of Glarus, is over 7,800 feet (2,400 metres) above sea level and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks - something that the team behind the AlpinSolar project says is a key benefit.

Why are alpine solar plants so effective?

"One of the qualities of alpine solar plants is that, especially in winter, they produce up to three times more electricity than a comparable facility in the midlands," says Jeanette Schranz, communications lead for renewables at Swiss energy producer Axpo.

The dam's almost 5,000 solar panels produce 3.3 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, enough to supply around 700 houses. Installation of the panels was completed last year and production at the site has already begun.

REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
The reflection from the snow helps solar power production at the AlpinSolar dam.REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Schranz says Switzerland's mountains are less affected by fog in colder months, meaning the panels see more sun than they would at lower altitudes.

"The reflection from the snow also helps," Schranz says, adding that "solar panels like the cold and have a higher yield in cooler temperatures."

Switzerland is leaning on solar in its nuclear power phaseout

AlpinSolar is part of a larger vision for Axpo, which says it aims to install 4,200 solar projects in Switzerland's mountains and lower-lying regions by 2030.

Switzerland's government is also making it easier for solar energy to become more prevalent. Last year the federal parliament amended the country's Energy Act to fast track the approval process of new solar plants that aim to produce significant levels of energy during the winter months.

REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Solar power is an important part of Switzerland's green energy transition.REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The country's drive towards more green means of energy production is tied to its decision to phase out nuclear power. In June 2011 parliament resolved not to replace any existing reactors, which was confirmed in a 2017 referendum.

Schranz says a balanced power mix is key to Switzerland achieving the transition to green energy. “Alpine solar plants can also make an important contribution here.”

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