Green Gondolas: Energy Neutral, Solar Powered Aerial Ropeway

Post by Gondola Project

The new Staubern ropeway in Switzerland is built to be “energy neutral”. This means that the system is designed to generate all the energy it requires for daily operations internally and does not require any external power sources. Image from Berggasthaus Staubern.

As gondolas experience tremendous growth in the urban and recreational transport market, many decision-makers are now beginning to realize that ropeways are amongst the world’s most sustainable forms of transport.

For instance, not only are gondolas able to create direct environmental benefits by producing less carbon emissions per passenger kilometre than trams and buses (under the right conditions of course), their electrical power consumption systems can reduce the amount of point source pollutants that are released locally. In the case of the Mexicable, operators estimated that 5,800 cars were removed from neighbourhood roads while 17,400 tons of carbon emissions were eliminated.

While sustainable practices are almost always built into all cable car projects, the Staubern Ropeway (German: Bergbahn Staubern) is expected to take ecological stewardship to a whole new level.

The new modernized aerial tram, which takes users from the Rhein Valley to the Staubern Inn (located 1,800m above sea level), is supposed to be the first aerial ropeway in the world that can operate “independent of energy“. According to online articles, there are a few ways that the gondola can achieve this objective.

Daniel Lüchinger, the project proponent, was inspired to build a true “climate-neutral” gondola after a guest challenge him that his other gondola, the Frümsen-Staubern Ropeway, was not truly “energy netural” as it was powered by vegetable oil that was brought in by his car. Image from FM1Today.ch.

Technologically, the ropeway’s 51-kilowatt drive is powered by electric Tesla batteries which store solar energy. The top and bottom stations are outfitted with solar panels to capture as much power from the sun as possible.

Operationally, in terms of its passenger flows, the gondola is unlike many traditional sightseeing lifts where there is, by and large, an equal flow of passengers riding from the bottom station to the top station (and vice versa).

Rather, since many of the ropeway’s customers are hikers who trek up to the summit, these passengers simply ride the system from the top to the bottom. As such, due to the heavier descending cabin loads (compared to lighter ascending cabin loads), energy is actually generated during downhill operations, which in turn, is fed back to the electric batteries.

As surprising as this may sound, this isn’t the first time that a ropeway has been designed with solar energy in mind. Previously, the Swiss town of Tenna, built a tow lift that was powered entirely by sun power while the American resort town of Telluride implemented a major green retrofitting program for its public transit gondola.

The Staubern ropeway was entirely financed by local hotel operators who built the system without any subsidies. Their investment of US$5.2 million (5 million CHF) is designed to improve passenger service and comfort.

Compared to the old Frümsen – Staubern Ropeway (built 1979), the new gondola will be two times faster (7.0m/s vs 3.5m/s), more comfortable (two 8-person cabins versus one 6-person cabin), and will offer higher capacities (72 passengers per hour vs 18 passengers per hour).

To celebrate this momentous occasion, a slew of festivities are planned throughout this weekend as part of its inauguration. A total of 3,000 – 5,000 visitors from across the region are expected.

While this “energy neutral” cable lift model is only possible in unique circumstances, the laudable achievements of the Staubern Ropeway will hopefully inspire more action towards sustainable development practices.

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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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