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Project example: Wind energy in mountainous regions

Wind energy in mountainous regions?

Wind turbines will be moving into mountainous regions as well in the future, so the ZHAW School of Engineering investigated the level of acceptance of wind energy in the canton of Valais as a representative example, taking into account socio-economic and technical aspects.

Wind turbines have long been part of the landscape on the North Sea, but here in Switzerland they have been spreading in a very tentative manner up until now. This will most likely change in the near future since the energy strategy of the Swiss government is focusing on expanding power generation from renewable energies. In concrete terms, their use should increase to 22.6 TWh by 2050 – with 4 TWh of the total coming from wind energy according to the plan. Around 800 large wind turbines with a production of 5 GWh each will be required to achieve this target. As of today, however, there are only 30 large wind farms in operation.

In the context of a research project headed by the Institute of Sustainable Development (INE), the ZHAW School of Engineering took a thorough look at the level of acceptance of wind turbines, using the region of Goms as a sample. Technical and economic aspects were also examined at the same time because in addition to the necessary social acceptance, the issues of profitability and energy yield calculations are crucial to success.

“When jobs are created or revenue for the municipalities beckons, wind energy is accepted by almost everyone.”

Harry Spiess, project head, Institute for Sustainable Development (INE)

Local acceptance

During focus group discussions with local stakeholders, the INE formed a picture of their concerns and the prevailing mood on the ground. “When jobs are created or revenue for the municipalities beckons, wind energy is accepted by almost everyone,” project head Harry Spiess explains. However, building the wind farms represents a financial risk for municipalities if production is not as profitable in the end as was originally hoped. This lends even more significance to the calculations prepared by the ZHAW School of Engineering in the areas of location and the size of the turbines. The conversations with the local stakeholders also revealed the strong link between technical and social issues. For example, the expected energy yield and the profitability of the turbines are key acceptance factors for the local population. In addition, the actual wind conditions on the site and the connection to the power grid need to be considered in the profitability calculations.

Acceptance by tourists

The INE surveyed around 850 potential tourists online about wind energy to gain an external perspective. The people who enjoy travelling to the mountains were mainly positive according to the study. Only 17 per cent were completely against the expansion of wind turbines in mountainous regions. Almost 90 per cent of the respondents said that small wind turbines had no – or even a positive – influence on their choice of a holiday destination. “However, small turbines are only economically viable in individual cases, such as at isolated ski cabins combined with solar power,” Spiess comments on the profitability calculations. “The existing large wind turbine on the Gries Pass is currently the more promising model for energy production compared to small wind turbines.”

“The ZHAW was able to provide us with new insights about wind energy in the region of Goms and put together a checklist that will help us as we plan more wind energy projects.”

Dionys Hallenbarter, president of unternehmenGoms

Consultancy for mountainous regions

The ZHAW School of Engineering worked together with the unternehmenGoms association on this research project. “The ZHAW was able to provide us with new insights about wind energy in the region of Goms and put together a checklist that will help us as we plan more wind energy projects,” Dionys Hallenbarter, president of unternehmenGoms, explains. However, the university also benefited from the opportunity to apply and further develop research methods and become a pioneer in this field. “We had the opportunity  to prove that we possess the comprehensive expertiseto carry out research of this type,” Harry Spiess declares. “We would be happy to advise other regions as well, since the ZHAW School of Engineering offers a complete package with research into location, technology, profitability and acceptance.”

It is also very possible that other regions will soon request the services of the ZHAW School of Engineering in order to evaluate the opportunities and risks associated with wind turbines and initiate a planning process. In the meantime, Goms has decided to continue moving forward with wind energy and is planning three new large wind turbines on the Gries Pass.

At a glance

Participating institutes and centres:

Project partner:

Financing: specially funded project ZHAW School of Engineering

Project status: completed