«Let there be light!», thus spoke the Engadin pioneering spirit in 1879, and there was light. To be exact: This was the first electric light in Switzerland. The feat was achieved with hydro power that soon took on the most important role in Alpine tourism. An homage to the strong current.
The revelation of electrical light came to the people of the Engadin early on. When Johannes Badrutt, the legendary hotelier from St. Moritz, returned from his visit to the Paris World Exposition in 1878, he brought along one of those electric Yablochkov's candles that in hundreds had illuminated the closing festivity in the «Ville Lumière». The lightbulb had not yet been invented and the world raved about the dazzling miracle of those sunlike arc lamps. Back home, Badrutt did not think twice and had the first water turbine installed in St. Moritz. The machine was powered by the small creek behind his Kulm Hotel and produced a whole 3 kW in order to light up the dining hall. Thanks to this, Badrutt’s guests enjoyed their meals without the disturbing smell of petrol lamps as early as the summer season of 1879.
The guests expressed their gratitude to Badrutt as well as to the other hotels and the Engadin municipalities that, one by one, switched on the light: They started coming to the high valley in droves, because now the Engadin not «only» scored points with its natural beauty and exclusivity, but it also proved to have the edge in technological progress. Who needed an urban grand boulevard if he could turn nights into days in the brightly lit streets of Pontresina?
More technological achievements that went hand in hand with with the boom of tourism soon came along. Motors, hotel lifts, telephones, mountain railways – these and other comforts required electricity. And water was the great enabler! Beginning in 1880, within a few years twelve hydroelectric power plants were built, eight of which exclusively for hotels.
With approximately 1500 lakes, 890 km2 of glaciers, countless streams and the unique triple watershed on the Lunghin Pass, Switzerland has always been Europe’s water reservoir. And within our Alpine state, the Canton of Grisons is considered a veritable hydro power canton: It produces a fifth of the entire Swiss hydro power – and the Engadin’s share amounts to approximately 5 %. Its vast supply of water is mainly due to the «white coal»: the snowflakes that account for 80 % of the water of the Inn and its branches.
However, this natural resource is not only used by large hydroelectric power plants like the impressive Pradella plant. Small hydroelectric power plants, too, with a water drop of a mere two to three meters represent a share of 10 % of the entire Swiss hydro power. In addition to that, more benefits are figuratively gushing out of them: They are less dependent on environmental influences or topography, they take the load off the transmission network and create jobs in peripheral regions.
Since its beginnings in the 19th century the electricity production in the “Garden of the Inn” (Romansh for “Engadin”) is quantitatively the primary use of water. The Engadin has always had a wealth of water, but the endeavour to maintain its top position in the field of Alpine tourism, continuously requires new investments, that is to say: requires more energy. Unfortunately, climate change also has a say in the matter: The warmer temperatures have an effect on the snowfall, the snowmelt and finally on the hydro power. Much to the chagrin of all water-dependent activities like artificial snowmaking, drinking water supply or farming.
In the high valley, the call for sustainability is heard for years now. And it is being answered! The many innovations in the field of renewable energies, with hydro power leading the way, are part of daily life in the Engadin:
Lake St. Moritz is not only a popular tourist attraction and recreation area of the village as well as the whole region, but also serves as a sustainable energy source. All year round thermal heat pumps draw energy from it and distribute it in the form of thermal heat to many public buildings, hotels and private households. This process saves more than 1500 t CO2 and several hundred thousand liters of heating oil annually.
The Engadin St. Moritz Mountain Ltd even built an entire new lake at 2640 m a. s. l. on the occasion of the 2017 Alpine Ski World Cup. The impounding reservoir Lej Alv with a volume of 400'000 m3 allows artificial snowmaking on the Corviglia mountain even on short notice, so there is no need anymore to pump up water up from Lake St. Moritz. Apart from the fact that Lej Alv saves electricity of approximately 400 households per year, the idyllic mountain lake also charms day-trippers and active holidaymakers.
You will also find lots of H2O power in the chic energy benches at selected locations in the Engadin. Being on the electrical grid, the wooden benches feature various opportunities for use: as a plug-in charging station for mobile devices and e-bikes, as a bike rack – or simply as a comfortable seat when you want to catch some sun.