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Wind energy – clean power generated by the force of nature

At an altitude of 2332 metres, Gütsch in the canton of Uri is home to Europe’s highest wind farm. (in new window)

At an altitude of 2332 metres, Gütsch in the canton of Uri is home to Europe’s highest wind farm. © ew-ursern.ch

Standing on the crest of the Jura mountains, the Mont Croisin wind farm, with its 16 giant turbines, makes for an arresting sight.  Besides producing electricity, the installation is a powerful symbol of how far the search for renewable energies has come.

Mont Croisin in the Bernese Jura is home to the largest wind farm in Switzerland. In 2010 Juvent SA erected eight state-of-the-art wind turbines, enabling the company to quadruple its annual energy production. Given that the base of a wind turbine alone weighs a hefty 20 tonnes, the actual construction process was nothing short of spectacular. Through the night heavy equipment transporters hauled the bases along a circuitous route, and a telescopic boom crane was later used to assemble the turbines. Switzerland is also home to the highest wind park in Europe: the Gütsch ob Andermatt wind power installation in the canton of Uri is 2332 metres above sea level and its three turbines produce 2.4 megawatts a year.

Can wind power Switzerland’s energy future?

Wind generates power without polluting the air, emitting CO2 and occasioning serious risks. In 2009, 18.9% of the total energy consumed came from renewable sources, of which 0.035% was wind power. Switzerland currently has eight wind power installations equipped with a total of 28 high-performance wind turbines:

*Situation in 2011 **MW = Megawatt = 1 million watts; maximum output.
Location* Number of wind turbines Total output in MW**
Mont Crosin / BE 16 23.6
Le Peuchapatte / JU 3 6.9
Saint-Brais / JU 2 4.0
Gütsch-Andermatt / UR 3 2.4
Vernayaz-Martigny / VS 1 2.0
Collonges / VS 1 2.0
Entlebuch / LU 1 0.9
Grenchenberg / SO 1 0.15
(in new window)

Aerial view of two wind turbines on Mont Crosin. The wind park on Mont-Crosin was opened in 1996. Wind energy contributes only about 0.035% of Switzerland's energy consumption.© suisse-éole

Wind map: Mean wind speed at 70 m above ground level. (in new window)

Wind map: Mean wind speed at 70 m above ground level. © METEOTEST 2011

*Situation in 2011
**MW = Megawatt = 1 million watts; maximum output.

In 2009 wind power installations generated 22.3 gigawatt hours (GWh), which is the equivalent of the annual energy needs of 6,200 households (based on an average use of 3,500 kWh/household/year). 

The erection of additional wind parks is currently being discussed, with some projects already at the planning or implementation stage. Possible sites for these installations include alpine passes, the Pre-Alps, the Napfgebiet and the Jura arc, due to the fact that the minimum wind speed in all of these places is 4.5 metres per second.

The SwissEnergy Programme, which was launched in 2000, envisages that 4,000 gigawatt hours will be generated annually from wind power by 2050, covering  between 8% and 10% of household electricity demand in Switzerland.

Animal welfare and landscape conservation

Although wind power installations are an answer to various problems like fossil fuel depletion, the risks of nuclear energy, climate change and dependence on imports, they are not completely risk-free and encounter opposition.

Wind turbines, birds and bats
Consideration must be given to the migratory routes of birds and the hunting grounds of bats when deciding where to site new wind turbines. Great care is also taken not to disturb the breeding grounds and habitats of protected species. Where necessary, the operating schedules are adapted to minimise disruption. The SwissEnergy programme therefore works closely with the Swiss Ornithological Institute in Sempach and Bat Conservation Switzerland. While wind turbines may have certain risks, glass-fronted buildings, high-voltage power lines and road traffic pose a far greater risk to birds and bats.

A noisy eyesore?
They say that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. The same can be said about wind turbines. For some they are a boon for the environment, for others they are nothing more than an enormous blot on the landscape. The SwissEnergy programme is keenly aware of the need to respect the landscape. For example, no turbines are erected in areas that appear on the Federal Inventory of Landscapes and Natural Monuments of National Importance or are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Public opinion is also an important factor for operators to consider when deciding on the location of new wind turbines.
Modern wind turbines are relatively quiet. Admittedly, the rotating blades do make noise but this is quickly drowned out by the noise of the wind itself. Today, it is entirely possible to conduct a normal conversation standing underneath a wind turbine without having to raise your voice.