Grande Dixence S.A.
Barrage de la Grande-Dixence
In 1922, Energie Ouest Suisse (EOS) became established with a few small power stations. To generate substantial amounts of electricity, EOS looked to the Valais canton which contains 56% of Switzerland‘s glaciers and stores the largest amount of water in Europe. In 1927, EOS acquired the license for the upper Dixence basin. In 1929, 1,200 workers constructed the first Dixence dam which would be complete in 1935. The first dam would supply water to the Chandoline Power Station which has a capacity of 120 MW.
After the Second World War, growing industries needed electricity and construction on the Cleuson Dam began in 1947 and was completed in 1951. The original Dixence dam was submerged by the filling of Lac des Dix beginning in 1957, it can still be seen when the reservoir level is low. Plans for the Super Dixence Dam were now being finalized by the recently founded company, Grande Dixence SA. Construction on the Super Dixence Dam soon began later in 1950. By 1961, 3,000 workers had finished pouring 6,000,000 m3 (210,000,000 cu ft) of concrete, completing the dam. At 285 m, it was the world’s tallest dam at the time, but it was surpassed by the Nurek Dam of Tajikistan in 1972 (300 m). It remains the world’s tallest gravity dam.
In the 1980s, Grande Dixence SA and EOS began the Cleuson-Dixence project which improved the quality of electricity produced by building new tunnels along with the Bieudron Power Station. By the time the Cleuson-Dixence Complex was complete, the power generated had more than doubled.
The construction of the dam was documented in the short film Opération béton, the first film directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
The Grande Dixence Dam is a 285 m (935 ft) high, 700 m (2,297 ft) long concrete gravity dam. The dam is 200 m (656 ft) wide at its base and 15 m (49 ft) wide at its crest. The dam’s crest reaches an altitude of 2,365 m (7,759 ft). The dam structure contains approximately 6,000,000 m3(211,888,000 cu ft) of concrete. To secure the dam to the surrounding foundation, a grout curtain surrounds the dam, reaching a depth of 200 m (656 ft) and extending 100 m (328 ft) on each side of the valley.
Although the dam is situated on the relatively small Dixence, water supplied from other rivers and streams is pumped by the Z’Mutt, Stafel, Ferpècle and Arolla pumping stations. The pumping stations transport the water through 100 km (62 mi) of tunnels into its reservoir, Lac des Dix. Water from the 87 m (285 ft) high Cleuson Dam, located 7 km (4 mi) to the northwest, is also transported from its reservoir, the Lac de Cleuson. Three penstocks transport water from Lac des Dix to the Chandoline, Fionnay, Nendaz and Bieudron power stations, before being discharged into the Rhône below. All the pumping stations, power stations and dams form the Cleuson-Dixence Complex. Although the complex operates with water being pumped from one reservoir to another, it does not technically qualify as a pumped-storage scheme.
Most of the water comes from glaciers when they melt during the summer. The lake is usually at full capacity by late September, and empties during the winter, eventually reaching its lowest point around April.
Location: Hérémence, Switzerland
Type: Dam, Infrastructure
Type: Gravity dam
Impounds: Dixence (river)
Height: 285 m (935 ft)
Length: 700 m (2’297 ft)
Width (base): 200 m (656 ft)
Dam Volume: 6’000’000 m³ (210’000’000 cu ft)
Photography: ETH Library - Alessandro Della Bella - Armin Linke