The combined Zermatt-Cervinia ski area will have the biggest ski area in the world open this weekend with more than 90km of runs accessible on the Swiss and Italian side of the border surrounding Europe’s highest ski lifts.

Zermatt will also be running it’s new 3S gondola up to the Klein Matterhorn which has been operating daily since 1st November having taken there years to build during 100-day summer construction weather windows at its high altitude around 3,800 metres above sea level.

The new lift, which will run alongside the existing cable car, has won attention for lots of features including some cabins with glass floors and others encrusted with Swarovski crystals, but it is also a very environmentally friendly lift with the south and west walls of its valley station covered, not in crystals, but in a total of 485 modules solar panels covering a surface area of 877m2.

This solar power system at the new 3S cableway’s valley station can generate up to 135.8 kWp and will generate 157,000 kWh of energy a year, equivalent to the power used by about 35 households and saving up to 23.4 tonnes of CO2 per year if brown energy was used instead.

“The PV modules had to be carefully selected to account for the alpine weather conditions at almost 3,000 metres above sea level, which also required the installation of a number of steel supports to combat the high winds. The energy-generating modules are slightly thicker than the conventional types in order to withstand the effects of the weather, such as ice formation and hail,”  Stefan  Aufdenblatten, CEO of Elektrizitätswerk Zermatt AG (EWZ) explained, adding, “The Valley Station for the new lift is perfectly suited to a photovoltaics system with both location and available surfaces ideal for the installation.”

Interspersed between the modules are 57 glass windows which serve for natural lighting of the building interior. These have been positioned in such a way that they allow light to fall not only in the boarding area, but also in areas vital for inspection and maintenance of the cableway. The result is a station flooded with sunlight and minimal need for artificial light sources.

The new solar generation area on the lift station is actually the third at the resort.

Since April 2000, the south façade of the Matterhorn glacier paradise restaurant has supported 108 solar modules with a power rating of 23,650 Wp, generating 35,000 kWh a year.  The high-yield photovoltaic system won Zermatt’s lift company the Swiss and European Solar Prizes in 2010.

Zermatt has also been operating another photovoltaics system at the MEX station on Trockener Steg since 2010. Here, 99 solar panels yield 21,780 Wp of power and generate 20,000 kWh annually.