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  • Writer's pictureElle Eyestone

How do Alpine Villages Produce their own Power?


Written By: Elle Eyestone

Edited By: Ada Collins


When you think of the Alps, you probably imagine the beautiful scenery, great skiing, and charming little towns. Well, did you know that some of those towns run entirely on their own power? Hydroelectric power sources provide electricity to several remote communities in the Alps (Hardach, 2022).


One such community is the Furtlam, a farm town surrounded by waterfalls and streams. Local cooperatives helped to build a small, hidden hydroelectric power plant for the communities, and once installed, their electricity became entirely free (Hardach, 2022).


There are many communities like Furtlam in this area and are known as a hydroelectric powerhouse for much of Europe (Hardach, 2022). In fact, during the summer about half of the power produced in the Alps is used to power Italian communities (Hardach, 2022). Though there are many small power plants throughout the Alps, like the one used by the Furtlam, most of this power is only produced by about 30 big power plants (Hardach, 2022). Smaller plants only make up about 10% of the power produced in the Alps (Hardach, 2022).


While some people advocate for small hydro as an alternative to unsustainable forms of energy, such as gas and coal, the ecological costs of small hydroelectric plants may be very destructive when applied to a global scale (Gurung et. al., 2016). When these small plants are installed, they often reroute streams or build dams, ultimately causing harm to the biodiversity of the streams (Gurung et. al., 2016).


This is not to say that there are no benefits to a decentralized, hydroelectric power system. Because various cooperatives own the plants, they have great resilience and diversity (Hardach, 2022). Further, there is no question that for small communities these hydroelectric plants are far more sustainable than oil or coal based electricity (Hardach, 2022).


A somewhat-new invention, the water battery, may allow for hydropower from the Alps to be used by even more of Europe, with minimal effect on the environment (Cairns, 2022). The water battery is able to store, stabilize, and regulate excess energy from hydropower (Cairns, 2022). They also do not necessitate the building of a dam, avoiding negative biodiversity implications of hydropower as it functions now (Cairns, 2022).


Overall, hydropower is an exciting and evolving source of energy that may be the key to Europe going carbon-neutral.


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References:

Cairns, R. (2022, August 1). This giant 'water battery' under the Alps could be a game-changer for Renewable Energy in Europe. CNN. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/01/world/water-battery-switzerland-renewable-energy-climate-scn-hnk-spc-intl/index.html


Gurung, A. B., Borsdorf, A., Füreder, L., Kienast, F., Matt, P., Scheidegger, C., Schmocker, L., Zappa, M., & Volkart, K. (2016, May 1). Rethinking Pumped Storage Hydropower in the European Alps. BioOne Complete. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://bioone.org/journals/mountain-research-and-development/volume-36/issue-2/MRD-JOURNAL-D-15-00069.1/Rethinking-Pumped-Storage-Hydropower-in-the-European-Alps/10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-15-00069.1.full


Hardach, S. (2022, November 30). The alpine villages producing their own power. BBC Future. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221129-the-alpine-villages-producing-their-own-power

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