The role of glacier retreat for Swiss hydropower production

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Bettina Schaefli, Pedro Manso, Mauro Fischer, Matthias Huss, Daniel Farinotti


High elevation or high latitude hydropower production (HP) strongly relies on water resources that are influenced by glacier melt and are thus highly sensitive to climate warming. Despite of the wide-spread glacier retreat since the development of HP infrastructure in the 20th century, little quantitative information is available about the role of glacier mass loss for HP. We provide the first regional quantification for the share of Alpine hydropower production that directly relies on the waters released by glacier mass loss, i.e. on depletion of long-term ice storage that cannot be replenished by precipitation in the coming decades. Based on the case of Switzerland (which produces over 50% of its electricity from hydropower), we show that since 1980, 3.0% to 4.0% (1.0 to 1.4 TWh yr-1) of the country-scale hydropower production was directly provided by the net glacier mass loss and that this share is likely to reduce substantially by 2040-2060. For the period 2070-2090, a production reduction of about 1.0 TWh yr-1 is anticipated. The highlighted regional differences, both in terms of HP share from glacier mass loss and in terms of timing of production decline, emphasize the need for similar analyses in other Alpine or high latitude regions.



Earth Sciences, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Glaciology, Hydrology, Natural Resource Economics, Natural Resources Management and Policy, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Sustainability, Water Resource Management


hydrology, Glaciology, climate change, Hydrological Modeling, Hydropower, electricity, energy, glaciological modeling, run-of-river hydropower


Published: 2017-12-22 04:01

Last Updated: 2018-10-09 07:00

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International