Water vortices: a new source of alternative energy?

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Water vortices: a new source of alternative energy?


Switzerland has emerged as a world leader in renewable energies. As innovative ideas are hatched, researchers seek out technologies and techniques to put them into practice. In 2009, the only gravitation water vortex plant in Switzerland to date was commissioned in the village of Schöftland (canton of Aargau). The future is looking bright for this new form of hydroelectric power generation.

A new type of power plant

Gravitation water vortex plants are built directly on top of the river bed. They require a minimum water level of only 0.7 m and a minimum quantity of approx. 1,000 litres per second. Thanks to simple, easy-maintenance and innovative technology, these plants are small, robust and built to last, with a maximum shelf-life of 50 to 100 years.

A gravitation water vortex plant functions differently from traditional hydroelectric facilities. It has a rotation tank equipped with a central outlet above which a stable, symmetrical vortex forms. It then drives the turbine thanks to the gravitational force between the turbine and the outlet. With 20 rotations per minute, the turbine powers the generator, which transfers the resulting electricity to the power grid. The turbine therefore generates neither high levels of pressure nor backflow water. Gravitation water vortex plants meet “clean tech” specifications due to the fact that 97% of electricity production is CO2-free.

Advantages of water vortex plants

The advantages of this type of power plant are many. Not only are they driven by a simple and reliable technology, they are also easy to maintain, compact, and inexpensive. Water vortex plants are also good news for the environment. Their construction will restore the body of water (e.g. a river) on which they are built, benefiting nature and the local community alike. The innovative technology behind these facilities means that they pose no threat to the fish population, as they are able to bypass the rotor downstream and upstream. A further advantage is the improved cleaning efficiency of natural micro-organisms thanks to the higher oxygen levels resulting from the regular aeration of the water.

Water vortex plants have little impact on the local environment as most of the construction work is below ground. With correct planting, the basin itself can be hidden, rendering the entire facility virtually invisible.

Pilot gravitation water vortex plant in Switzerland

The village of Schöftland in the canton of Aargau is home to the first gravitation water vortex power plant in Switzerland. Opened in 2009, the plant, which measures 6.5 metres in diameter and has a height of fall of 1.5 metres, can generate between 10 and 15 kW, depending on the volume of water. This is equivalent to an annual output of 80,000 to 130,000 kWh, enough to cover the yearly electricity needs of around 20 to 25 Swiss households (50-60 people). It is owned by the Genossenschaft Wasserwirbelkraftwerke Schweiz (cooperative of gravitation water vortex power plants Switzerland) and WWK Energie GmbH, the Swiss centre of excellence for vortex power plant development and research. This pilot project enjoys the backing of Dr. Bertrand Piccard, a high-profile figure in energy circles. The pioneering water vortex plant is named in his honour.

Watt d’Or 2011

The arrival of the new power plant was roundly welcomed, ultimately winning the Federal Office of Energy (FOE) 2011 Watt d’Or award in the “Renewable Energies” category. Although the cash value of the prize is zero, its marketing and publicity value is huge. Besides receiving a certificate and trophy, Watt d’Or prizewinners gain not only a quality label but also a higher media profile and an enhanced reputation thanks to the award.

The future

As far as the GWWK is concerned, the medium- to long-term future is clear. First, the wider community must get behind decentralised and carbon-neutral renewable energy production. Second, Switzerland, in its capacity as a global centre of excellence, must take the necessary action to make sure that alternative energies are generated effectively, reliably and sustainably. This will require the planning and construction of gravitation water vortex plants in as many suitable locations as possible across the country.

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