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Water is energy and the elixir of life

Water is energy and the elixir of life. In Zermatt, water is channelled from 86 springs in 12 headwaters into 1,600 homes, 175 hydrants and 23 fountains. It is 95% pure spring water, of exceptional quality and it meets the drinking water requirements set by the Swiss Food Law. But the local water can do more than just that: More than 70% of the electricity consumed in Zermatt comes from renewable energy – hydroelectric power. A conversation with the director of the electric company Elektrizitätswerke Zermatt AG, Stefan Aufdenblatten.
 
Mr. Aufdenblatten, does Zermatt generate its own hydroelectric power?
 
Yes. With the hydroelectric power stations installed in Zermatt 68% of electric energy can be met through local hydroelectric power. Four percent of energy comes from hydroelectric power plants in other parts of Switzerland. The remaining 28% is met through energy from an unspecified source.
 
How can one visualise power generation through run-off water from glaciers? How does the water make its way to the hydroelectric power plants?
 
The run-off water is harvested beneath the glacier or in the creek bed by means of special devices (water harvesters). There, gravel and sand are extracted from the water, which is then stored in a reservoir. When needed, the stored water is channelled to the power plant through a pressure line. At the power plant the water, which is under a great deal of pressure, drives a turbine, which in turn drives the generator. The mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy in the generator, then it's fed into the public supply mains and supplied to consumers through power lines.
Why is there such a difference in the way the Vispa rises? 

There are several factors that influence the flow of the Vispa and also how it flows into other streams. In addition to the effluent from the power plants which can be modified, there are also thunderstorms in the mountains which, in a very short time, can make the rivers rise and suddenly turn a quiet little brook into a dangerous body of water.
 
Is that why it's common to see warning signs along the courses of rivers? 

Yes. Warning signs are placed along all rivers where power plants are located. First and foremost, they are meant to point out the dangers of rapidly rising water along those bodies of water as the result of manipulations at power plants. However, it is also important to remember that any quiet stream in the mountains can become a danger even when there are no power plants. Even during rather small showers a large amount of water can fall in the catchment area, which can make rivers rise swiftly and strongly.
 The zone along the banks and nice sandbanks along the course of the river can become flooded in a matter of seconds, sweeping away persons and material with the strong current. As enticing it may be to cool off your feet in a little stream while walking or hiking in the mountains, it can also be very dangerous!

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