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  • Writer's pictureManny Suárez

Harnessing Solar Potential: Swiss Canton Innovates with Solar Panels on Retaining Walls

The canton of Appenzell Ausserhoden in northeastern Switzerland is breaking new ground in renewable energy by transforming a traditional retaining wall into a vertical solar power station. Comprising 756 glass-glass solar panels, this unique initiative is a response to the canton’s ambitious target of sourcing at least 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2035.

The solar panels boast an impressive output of 325 kW, generating approximately 230,000 kWh annually – a capacity equivalent to meeting the energy needs of 52 Swiss households. What makes this project especially noteworthy is its location; the panels adorn a roadside retaining wall, demonstrating the potential to integrate solar power infrastructure into existing urban landscapes.

Collaborating with German mounting system provider K2 Systems and Swiss contractor Solarmotion, the vertical solar system was expertly installed on a 75-degree retaining wall. The structural complexity was managed with precision, anchoring the panels securely with HUS screw anchors on a mounting rail. Hilti, based in Lichtenstein, provided crucial mechanical dowels for the project.

Crucially, the generated energy will be seamlessly integrated into the grid of energy supplier St. Gallisch-Appenzellische Kraftwerke. In return, the canton will benefit from a feed-in tariff, making this venture not only sustainable but economically viable.

The engineering finesse doesn’t stop there. Due to the close proximity to the asphalt and potential exposure to the elements, the solar panels are equipped with exceptional corrosion-resistant features. The components are anodized for protection, with aluminum and stainless steel ensuring durability in challenging environmental conditions.

What makes this initiative even more compelling is its potential application beyond Switzerland. With a significant number of sound walls installed along highways worldwide, especially those adjacent to residential areas, the concept of repurposing these structures for solar power generation presents an exciting prospect. Sound walls, designed to mitigate noise pollution, often share characteristics with retaining walls, offering ample surface area for solar installations.

Considering the vast network of highways globally and the prevalence of sound walls, repurposing these structures into solar power stations could represent a scalable solution for sustainable energy production. Beyond their primary function, these walls could become silent contributors to the renewable energy landscape, providing dual benefits to communities.

As we celebrate the innovative strides made by the canton of Appenzell Ausserhoden, it prompts us to rethink how existing infrastructure, such as sound walls along highways, could play a pivotal role in our renewable energy future. By marrying functionality with sustainability, these initiatives not only meet energy demands but also underscore the potential for creativity in addressing our climate challenges. The Swiss canton’s endeavor serves as an inspiration for others to explore unconventional spaces for solar power integration, redefining how we perceive and utilize urban structures in the pursuit of a greener, more sustainable future.

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