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Berghilfe supports the construction of 450 solar energy systems in Switzerland

Berghilfe supports the construction of 450 solar energy systems in Switzerland

In April, the solar system was installed on the roof of the Igberg Mountain Lodge.Image: zvg

Solar energy extracted from mountains is usually associated with large-scale systems. But the potential is also huge on surfaces. Swiss Mountain Aid plays a pioneering role in this field.

Peter Blunci
Peter Blunci

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The Eggberge region high above Lake Uri is a popular trekking area. The cable car takes guests from Flüelen to an altitude of about 1,500 meters in less than ten minutes. There is a lodge with a terrace right next to the mountain station. Anyone who approaches it will see a photovoltaic system on the roof. There is a special story associated with it.

Eggberge Mountain Lodge was purchased by Gaby and Andy Brownrigg a few years ago. He is English and she is Swiss. They previously ran a similar restaurant in Graubünden. At first they were put off at Igbergen because the house was, in plain English, a real cottage. The great location still convinces them.

Mount Iberg Lodge

Eggberge Mountain Lodge (r.) is located right next to the cable car.Photo: Swiss Mountain Aid

But it was also clear that significant investments would be necessary. That's what the Brownriggs did. Since 2019, they have extensively renovated the mountain lodge to include eight guest rooms that can accommodate up to 24 people. Created from the disassembled box, a gem is homely in the best sense of the word. As a visitor, you will be immediately impressed.

In the trap of clichés

A new roof followed last year. Its large area actually invited people to install a solar system. “We planned this from the beginning,” says Gabe Brownrigg as he inspects the site. She and her husband took refuge in the Erstfeld municipal facility, which plays a pioneering role in this field in the canton of Uri.

This is where the interesting part begins, because the Erstfelders referred the Braunriggs to a rush program from the Swiss Mountain Aid Foundation. In many minds, it is primarily associated with supporting poor families who work in mountain agriculture. Gabe Brownrigg also fell right into this hackneyed trap: “We thought mountain aid was just for farmers.”

Renewable energy collection campaign

But this image is outdated. This year's national collection campaign from late January to mid-February is dedicated to renewable energies. Biogas systems, wood heating systems and solar energy are supported. Photovoltaics are very effective in mountainous areas, especially in winter. Efficiency is higher when it is cold than when it is hot.

Due to the impending electricity shortage in the winter of 2022/23, the Parliament in Bern approved the solar high-speed train project. This is intended for large area systems. Some setbacks have made headlines, but the Solar Express train is better than its reputation. More regulations have now been accepted by local residents than have been rejected.

450 systems for 13 million

However, Berghilfe focused on systems on existing buildings, following the motto “Small animals also make a mess.” We had already looked at sustainability before, says Beatrice Zanella, head of projects and partnerships at Bergelfi, in an interview with Watson: “But we discovered that although we still supported a few oil heating systems, we only supported a few Solar energy systems.

The “autumn crisis” of 2022 has provided the final impetus for the solar stimulus programme. “We built it in three to four months,” Zanella says. With great success. At the end of 2023, there were 281 systems supported with a total contribution of 8.3 million francs: “We are now at 450 systems and 13 million francs.”

Rebuke the expert

It's a big sum for Berghilfe, which is financed exclusively by donations and provided a healthy 39 million francs worth of support last year, more than ever before. But the solar energy program is compatible with mountain aid, says Beatrice Zanella. And to all of Switzerland, where solar energy is currently witnessing a huge boom.

Berghilfe Commercial Energy Conditoria Sedrun Surselva Graubünden Oberland Graubünden Switzerland

The solar system at Conditoria in Sedrun (GR) was also supported by Berghilfe.Photo: Yannick Andrea/Schweizer Bergelvi

The Brownriggs on the Eggbergen also switched to Berghilfe after Erstfeld's advice. They sent a volunteer expert who initially chastised the couple in light of the investments they had made, says Gabe Brownrigg, laughing. “We asked why we hadn't called them earlier.”

“The target is a lively mountainous world.”

Concretely, this means that the renewal process has already been supported. Because the hostel creates job opportunities and creates added value. “Our goal is a lively mountain world,” says Beatrice Zanella. That's why people are so happy to support mountain hotels. As the renovation is now being considered, it is unclear how much the Brownriggs will receive.

However, it became clear that in addition to the solar system, mountain aids would also contribute to the renovation costs. This is not a given. The notorious extreme gains effects are certainly relevant. “We have clear standards,” says Zanella. Depending on the company's financial situation, the request may also be rejected: “If the investment makes financial sense for the company, we say no.”

Commissioned in April

It has already been installed on Eggbergen. This was originally scheduled to take place last fall, after the roof renovation was completed. But the weather didn't cooperate. But at the beginning of April a window was found. The panels were transported by helicopter and assembled using joint forces. The solar system was commissioned on April 15.

The solar system at Berggasthaus Eggberge

Andy and Gabby Brownrigg (right) celebrate the completion of the system with their crew.Image: zvg

Its power is 28 kilowatts. When Watson visited the lodge at the beginning of the week, the lodge was shrouded in fog, but even then the system was still providing about 3.5 kilowatts, Gabe Brownrigg explains on the linked app. By installing new, efficient appliances as part of the renovation process, electricity consumption is further improved.

Giving something in return to the cities

“The kitchen is the biggest energy consumer of all,” says the Brownriggs. It is most commonly used at lunchtime, when day-trippers from the lowlands flock to Uri on fine days. But this is exactly the time when the system saves the most electricity. This creates a win-win situation for Eggbergen.

The couple did not install the battery. This wouldn't be in keeping with the spirit of mountain aid either. “We finance batteries only in exceptional cases and mainly finance the systems that feed part of the electricity into the grid,” emphasizes Beatrice Zanella. The goal is to contribute to the energy transition: “We receive donations from cities and we can give something in return.”

For the residents of Valais, the electricity law is also an issue that will be voted on on June 9. It has the best opportunities and can give an additional impetus to expansion. However, especially in mountainous areas, this puts pressure on the power grid, for example, if several farmers install a system and want to feed with electricity at the same time.

Therefore, Bergelvi supports strengthening distribution networks in rural areas as an explicit topic in the new law. But in Eggbergen with Gaby and Andy Brownrigg, the summer season started on Wednesday. The long ascension weekend already promises beautiful weather. The first “rigidity test” for the new solar system.