Fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, and gas) are the largest contributors to global climate change and account for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. The UN recommends the adoption of renewable energy sources, in addition to a plant-based lifestyle, to be able to reduce GHG emissions by almost half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

The Nant de Drance is an underground pumped storage power plant, located in the Swiss Alps, and designed as an alternative to non-renewable energy. The plant is located 600 meters (1,968 feet) underground, in a cavern between the Emosson and Vieux Emosson reservoirs, and has a storage capacity of 20 million kWh (the equivalent of 400 000 electric car batteries).

The lower reservoir, Emosson, is the second-largest reservoir in Switzerland, and its 180-meter-high (590-feet-high) dam is the fifth tallest in the country. The upper reservoir, Vieux Emosson, holds 25 million cubic meters of water and was raised by 21.5 m (70.5 feet) to double its capacity.

The power plant has an operational capacity of 900 MW, making it one of the most powerful pumped storage plants in Europe and equivalent to the Gösgen nuclear power plant, which supplies approximately 15 percent of Switzerland’s electricity needs.

Source: Nant de Drance SA/YouTube

The plant offers flexible power generation, playing a key role in stabilizing the electricity grid throughout Europe and in safeguarding Switzerland’s power supply. In the case of surplus electricity in the grid, water is pumped from the lower reservoir to the higher reservoir, and the surplus energy is stored in the upper reservoir. When demand increases again, water flows from the upper reservoir and through the six underground turbines into the lower reservoir to generate electricity.

The construction of the plant, which entailed building 17 km (55774.3 ft) of tunnels and excavating 1.7 million m3 (60 ft3) of rock, required 14 years to complete, an investment of more than CHF 2 billion, a collaboration of 60 companies, and up to 650 workers. In the face of such immense resources, it is fair to question the sustainability of this newest renewable energy. The Nant de Drance prioritized reducing the environmental impact of the pumped storage power plant and a very high-voltage line connecting the power plant to the power grid by establishing fifteen projects at a total cost of CHF 22 million.

These projects are monitored by an advisory group consisting of representatives of the WWF, Pro Natura, the canton of Valais, as well as the Swiss Federal Office of Energy. Most of the measures aim to recreate specific local biotopes, such as wetlands, to encourage recolonization of the area by certain rare or endangered animal and plant species. These measures are carried out in collaboration with farmers and breeders from the region and support mountain agriculture. This project took 14 years to construct, but there is ample evidence that shows that each individual who follows a plant-based lifestyle can reduce their carbon footprint by 8 pounds a day, which amounts to 2,920 pounds a year.

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