The phrase ‘higher power’ takes on a new meaning in such extreme locations as the Victron Energy powered Refuge du Promontoire. But where is it and why?
Refuge du Promontoire is a sanctuary for climbers and skiers in the French Alps and is located in the massif des Ecrins at an altitude of 3,092 m. The refuge is built on sheer rock in front of the South face of La Meije. It’s the usual starting point of the famous crossing of La Meije, which is highly coveted by climbers for its ridges, south and north faces and is considered by many as one of the most beautiful climbs in the Alps. The refuge is owned by (CAF) Club Alpin Français.
As Refuge du Promontoire is in the Écrins National Park, any work carried out must respect the resources and assets of the area, hence there is a requirement to use environmentally friendly solutions which are subject to a charter and regulation. What better energy technology to use then, in this sensitive area, than solar power from Victron Distributor and Installer FE Solar.
Refuge du Promontoire
In the panorama below, the refuge is in the top left of the photograph.
To give you some perspective, here below is a zoomed in partial view of that panorama. As you can see this is certainly not your average location for installers of Victron equipment.
The original shelter was constructed in the 1920s out of wood as shown below. In 1966, this was replaced by the aluminum construction shown at the top of this blog.
The end of March was the beginning of the ski touring season and whilst times have moved on since the wooden hut days, the current 8 x AGM 180Ah and 6 x OPzV 600 Ah batteries in the refuge had reached the end of their life. In fact they were completely dead, plus the solar charge controller only had an output of 16 volts. Clearly something had to be done and quickly before the skiers arrived.
Jean Paul Cande and Thierry Cortassa to the rescue. Jean Paul is a member of the ‘commission refuge du CAF’ and Thierry is a Victron Distributor and Installer and runs FE Solar. For the emergency upgrades and to get the system functioning again, 12 x Victron Energy OPzV 600 batteries, 2 x 100/30 MPPT solar charge controllers and a BMV-700 were specified. The emergency aim was simply to get this all working for the skiers and then change out the inverter, tidy up the wiring and remove the old batteries on another helicopter run at a later date.
Having spoken to Thierry, it is clear this is no ordinary job. Specialist knowledge, a sensitivity for the environment and even rope access for safety to run the cable for the battery monitor was required. Not to mention they had to ski back down the mountain.
Other challenges were the drop zone platform in the photo below which is roughly 20m down from the refuge. As you might imagine moving batteries between the refuge and the platform is quite tricky. I don’t think this deterred Thierry and the team though, as he describes the place as “a mythical place for the Alpinist”, and whilst challenging they clearly enjoyed their work as you can see below.
Helicopter Drop Zone platform
Victron Energy OPzV 600 batteries being installed
Solar in the snow
As the Dutch brewing company, Heineken International use to say in their UK advert about Heineken Lager – “Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach”. It seems to me that Victron Energy and their installers do the same, when it comes to energy!
Energy. Anytime. Anywhere.
Installation photos: Thierry Cortassa of FE Solar
Wooden Hut/Refuge Meije: Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons