They are supposed to make their contribution to the electricity supply, but new systems are expensive – despite government subsidies.
With the Solar Express, Parliament has rolled out a carpet for electricity companies so that they can easily build new power plants for sustainable electricity production. Now it becomes clear that there is a gap between desire and reality.
The alpine solar systems cost a lot, which makes the electricity produced there expensive. Because this was clear from the start, the federal government will cover up to 60 percent of the uncovered investment costs.
How much money is there for solar power?
Nevertheless, Axpo boss Christoph Brand is cautious. “We don’t know whether it’s worth it despite the subsidies.” Because you simply don’t have any experience with such alpine solar systems yet. Axpo is currently planning four alpine solar systems. But they would hardly become gold mines, says Brand.
Axpo has no tied end customers, so it has to sell the electricity to someone. This can be on the electricity exchange, to regional energy suppliers or to a company through a long-term contract.
The specific problem with solar energy: All producers deliver electricity at the same time, i.e. when the sun is shining. This can lead to the revenue from the electricity produced in this way plummeting.
Only lucrative at the end of winter
The additional problem with alpine solar systems is that they only provide electricity for a short period of time, with which you can actually earn money. This is at the end of winter from February to the beginning of May.
Then the reservoirs empty, but the snow has not yet melted, which is why run-of-river power plants on the rivers only produce little electricity.
Legend: Electricity production in the Alps is probably only lucrative at the end of winter – when less electricity can be produced using hydropower (Image: System at the Muttsee dam, it belongs to Axpo). Keystone/Gian Ehrenzeller
Switzerland usually has enough electricity for the rest of the year. Alpine solar power is then comparatively expensive and has to be sold at a discount.
Different starting position at BKW
The situation is different for electricity companies with loyal customers. These include, for example, Bernische Kraftwerke AG (BKW). The electricity from the Alpine solar systems should be sold locally as far as possible, as BKW boss Robert Itschner explains.
In addition, BKW can pass on the costs of Alpine solar power to its customers. “The difference between the federal government’s investment subsidies and the production costs are calculated on the electricity price,” Itschner continued.
Conversely, this means that for BKW the focus is now on expanding the electricity supply, while economic efficiency is secondary. “We have a responsibility here that we want and must assume.”
The comparison between Axpo and BKW shows that every electricity supplier weighs up differently whether an Alpine solar system is financially worthwhile for them or not – and whether and to whom they can pass on the comparatively expensive electricity.