27 July 2018IDM

Clean energy from the mountains

Sustainability and innovation are the guiding principles of South Tyrolean energy provider Alperia. E-mobility plays an important role in the company’s vision for the future and it has plans to install 5,000 charging stations in the region by 2021.

Water is one of Alperia’s most vital sources of energy. Flowing from mountain streams, it is turned into electricity and distributed among the local streets, homes and offices, where it forms part of a virtuous cycle based on sustainability and innovation. These principles underpin all of Alperia’s current and future endeavours. One of the company’s primary objectives is to help promote e-mobility in South Tyrol by installing around 5,000 charging stations in the province by 2021. 150 stations are already up and running, all supplied with 100% green energy from South Tyrolean hydroelectric power stations. “We are lucky to be based in such a special region,” admits Wolfram Sparber, Chairman of the Executive Board of Alperia. “We can use its abundance of natural resources to generate environmentally friendly energy and to provide electricity and integrated services to the local population, all in the name of creating a green, secure and smart future.”

Revenue of 1.1 billion euros, including more than 180 million euros of direct added value for South Tyrol.

Although Alperia, which made 1.1 billion euros in 2017 (including more than 180 million euros of direct added value for South Tyrol), was only founded recently, its roots date back 100 years. It was established in early 2016 from the merger of South Tyrol’s two most important energy companies – AEW, which constructed the region’s first hydroelectric power stations more than a century ago, and SEL, which operated South Tyrol’s large hydroelectric power stations and the power grid over the last decade. Today, Alperia supplies gas and electricity to more than 278,000 consumers and operates 41 hydroelectric plants, 8,778 kilometres of power lines, 6 district heating plants and 6 photovoltaic plants in South Tyrol as well as three solar farms and a biomass facility beyond the province’s borders. It has also installed 51 public charging points for electric cars, which are supplied with 100% green energy from South Tyrol’s hydroelectric power stations. The company has plans to step up its activities in the area of e-mobility in particular. “We are in the process of creating the interconnected infrastructure needed to give everyone in the region access to environmentally friendly transport. At least 150 public and private charging points of different types and speeds have already been set up in South Tyrol for domestic use and on the streets. Our target is to install 5,000 charging stations and for 50% of our fleet of vehicles to be powered by electricity by 2021,” states Sparber, before going on to discuss the Hypercharger, which is the latest generation of charging points to be developed. Manufactured by South Tyrolean firm alpitronic and tested by the European research institute Eurac, it is smaller, yet much more powerful and faster than the models available on the market. While current stations require roughly 90 minutes to charge a car, the Hypercharger only needs up to half an hour. To help boost the popularity of e-mobility, tailored solutions have been created for business and retail customers, with private individuals also being able to lease electric cars.

Green electricity cuts costs significantly for both families and businesses

Besides e-mobility, Alperia is active in a host of other areas. The company aims to generate 100% of its energy from renewable resources. Thanks to South Tyrol’s location in the Alps, as much as 90% already comes from its hydroelectric power stations. Alperia’s 41 plants generate an average of 4,500 GWh of green energy a year. “This is not only paving the way to the province producing 100% renewable power, but also provides considerable benefits for families and companies in terms of savings, increased efficiency and a greater ability to compete,” explains Sparber. To reduce the environmental impact of its energy production activities to a minimum, the company has invested around 400 million euros in improving and preserving the countryside in the municipalities where the hydroelectric plants are located. 41 municipalities have already received funding to improve their wastewater treatment plants, take beautification measures, implement energy saving schemes and reduce environmental pollution.

The remaining 10% of energy generated by the company comes from other renewable energy sources, including the sun. Alperia operates six small PV plants in South Tyrol and holds shares in solar farms in Rimini, Macerata and Ottana (in the province of Nuoro). Together, these generated approximately 24 GWh in 2017, which is the equivalent of the average annual energy consumption of more than 7,500 families. Alperia also works in the area of district heating, an environmentally friendly system that supplies homes with heating and hot water, while avoiding the emission of thousands of tonnes of CO2. The company operates six district heating systems, including one in Bolzano, which obtains most of its heat energy from the city’s waste incineration plant. In 2017, this infrastructure supplied a total of 66 GWh of energy through the cogeneration of heat and electricity and 278 GWh of biomass energy.

100 million euros invested in developing the South Tyrol Smart Region

Innovation requires connectivity, which is why Alperia aims to supply all companies and homes in South Tyrol’s communities with a broadband connection, regardless of their geographical location. “Of the 132 million euros we invested over our first two years of operations, the lion’s share was spent on energy distribution. Approximately 80 million euros has been put towards district heating and we are currently investing 100 million euros on developing the South Tyrol Smart Region so that we can provide new services and improve our customers’ quality of life even further,” explains Sparber. The aim of the Smart Region is to offer services that create added value, such as CCTV, Wi-Fi hotspots, smart mobility, energy efficiency, sensors for air quality measurements, noise control and the monitoring of traffic lights and parking spaces.

Participation in the EU’s SINFONIA project

All these achievements are only possible thanks to Alperia’s comprehensive research activities, into which it invested one million euros in 2017. For example, by participating in the SINFONIA project co-funded by the EU, the company is helping to transform Bolzano into a smart city offering a high quality of life. Retrofitted buildings, new district heating technologies and smart grid solutions are all contributing to making this goal a reality. Bolzano has already been used as a model for five other European cities taking part in the project, namely Borås (Sweden), Seville (Spain), La Rochelle (France), Paphos (Cyprus) and Rosenheim (Germany). 

“We have our region to thank for all our accomplishments in the area of energy generation, which is why we want to give as much back to it as possible,” confirms Sparber, stressing the invaluable contribution made by Alperia’s workforce. “Today, the company has almost 1,000 employees and we are always looking for new talented people to join our team. In general, however, all South Tyroleans have an innate awareness of the importance of the environment and support us in creating a sustainable future for our province. Alongside the nature we live in, they are our most important source of energy.”

Fact sheet

Alperia in numbers

Revenue in 2017: 1.1 billion euros 

Energy production (net): 3.9 TWh

Employees: 940 employees, 98% with a permanent contract

Added value for South Tyrol: 181 million euros

Contracts with local service providers: 59%

Energy production (net) from renewable sources: 3,907 GWh

Investments in research and development in 2017: more than 1 million euros

Total length of power distribution lines: 8,778 km 

Underground power lines: 67%

Public charging points in South Tyrol: 51

New charging stations: 105

Power supplied by Alperia charging points: 116,000 kWh

Distance travelled by electric cars charged with green energy from Alperia: 696,000 km (the equivalent of 17 times around the world)

Emissions avoided thanks to electric vehicle charging: 120 t CO2