Even though as the crow flies, the postage-stamp town of Tenna, Switzerland, isn’t far from historic resorts like St. Moritz and Davos, Tenna is a one-horse town, one-shop, one-school, and one t-bar town. And that t-bar, the only ski lift in the whole valley, was on its last legs. But rather than let it die, locals raised enough money to update it and then went a step further: They built the world’s first solar-powered t-bar.
It’s more than solar-powered, in fact — it’s a smart investment. The Tenna lift generates 90,000 kilowatts a year, or three times the juice needed to run the lift, and the extra power goes back into the grid, which makes money for the town, which can pay residents back.
So what happens to the 82 solar “wings” when it dumps? Not a problem, because they rotate to follow the path of the sun in the sky and can be tilted to perpendicular during a storm, so there’s no load and the snow slides right off.
At $1.5 million, the project wasn’t cheap, but considering the cost of a new or updated lift anyway, plus the open skies above most ski lift pathways, it’s a no-brainer to use that area to offset the energy use. Other resorts might not gain 300 percent efficiency as in Tenna, where their modest lift shuttles 800 folks an hour and has a fraction of the energy requirements of, say, a high-speed quad, but if the offset is even a quarter of the energy used for shuttling people uphill, that’s a lot less carbon going up in smoke.
Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.