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Wind spark creates a flame, Switzerland

As one of the last countries to do so in Europe, Switzerland is considering ways of putting wind energy to work. A new study reports that wind power could supply up to 3.5% of national electricity consumption--seven times the target for new renewables set by Switzerland's Energy 2000 policy document in 1991.

Switzerland is waking up to its wind energy resource. A new study reports that wind power could supply up to 3.5% of national electricity consumption -- seven times the target for new renewables set by Switzerland's Energy 2000 policy document in 1991. As one of the last countries to do so in Europe, Switzerland is now considering ways of putting this resource to work.

In late November, the core of the embryo Swiss wind sector, some 60 people, met at a one-day wind energy conference in Olten. A study of the country's wind potential was presented by Robert Horbaty, head of wind at the federal energy office, the Bundesamt für Energiewirtschaft. He said Switzerland has realistic sites for some 3500 wind turbines. With a mix of small and large wind plant, this would allow installation of 1500 MW, generating around 1600 GWh a year, or 3.5% of annual demand.

Currently Swiss electricity supply is dominated by hydro, which supplies 60%, and nuclear. But in 1990, a nationwide referendum resulted in a ten year moratorium on new nuclear developments and the introduction of Energy 2000. Since then, wind energy has largely been neglected. Until recently only seven small turbines, amounting to just 300 kW had been installed. Now the wind resource study has provided new impetus. Most of the potential is concentrated in the Jura mountains, with some sites in the Alps too. Opportunities in the lowlands, however, are limited.

Interest in wind development is being helped by a new wind energy information centre set up by the federal energy office. The "Infostelle Wind," run by energy consultancy Nova Energie of Aarau, was opened last summer. "Our first main project was to organise the one day conference, bringing together wind expertise and those interested in wind," says Herbert Mösch of the Infostelle Wind. The organisation also provides free advice on possible wind sites and potential projects.

Wind energy in Switzerland has special problems to cope with, such as turbulent winds, frost, ice and thin air at high altitudes, which all push up the cost of producing electricity. There is little financial help on offer from government. At good sites wind plant can generate power for CHF 0.20-0.30/kWh, comparable with that from new hydro stations, but only CHF 0.16/kWh is available under Energy 2000, slightly more than paid under Germany's Electricity Feed Law. Without more help, wind plant cannot compete with large utility-run hydro plant which from the backbone of Switzerland's electricity supplier, claims the wind lobby. Some extra help, though, is available from the energy office which offers a 30% subsidy of costs which cannot be included in a long term financing package.

With so many hurdles for a private operator to overcome, it is perhaps not surprising that the country's first major wind project, three 600 kW Vestas turbines installed on Mount Crosin in November (Windpower Monthly, December 1996), has been developed by a consortium of utilities. BKW Energie, Aargauisches Elektrizitätswerk and an organisation of industrial operations based in Basle formed Juvent, a joint venture company which took over the tatters of an enormous project originally planned by American wind company Cannon. A massive 80 MW was to have been installed by Cannon at the Mont Crosin site. But it seems the country was unprepared for such a wind monolith. Beset by planning and other difficulties, the project dwindled in stages to 40 MW and then 20 MW and finally Cannon sold the venture to Juvent and pulled out. Juvent decided to start with just 1.8 MW.

Meantime, another small pilot project is in the making, aimed at exploring the effects of Arctic conditions on wind turbines. A 30 kW turbine is to be installed on the Titlis mountain, south of Engelberg. The wind turbine's output will contribute to the energy supply of a nearby hotel.

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