Hydropower in Europe

Growing Blue

Switzerland is Experiencing its Lowest Hydro Reserve Levels in More Than a Decade

Hydropower is the largest renewable energy source in Europe, yet it is estimated that 40% of the economically viable hydropower potential is not being tapped. It is a highly efficient and competitive electricity generation technology that currently only provides 11% of Europe’s electricity. Therefore, the European Commission is supporting research on hydro- and small-hydro sites based on the energy source’s long tradition in Europe and the projected move towards the convergence of regional European electricity markets as well as technical megaprojects. The Commission is encouraged by the hydropower sector’s recorded benefits including diversifying the energy supply, aiding local development, assisting in the maintenance of river basins, its suitability for rural electrification, and its high energy payback ratio.

However, a recent report by Bloomberg has brought attention to the current state of Switzerland’s hydro reserves, which are second only to the Nordic countries in the region. Recently hydro levels in Switzerland have dropped to almost 10% full, the least since 2000, according to data from the Swiss Federal Energy Office. The dry, cold winter weather has depleted reservoirs, boosted demand for heating and driven prices higher in Switzerland. This shortage of hydroelectric power may in turn lead to higher power prices not only in Switzerland but in the neighboring countries of France, Germany, Italy and Austria as well.

Hydro reserves usually reach their lowest point at the end of April and then start to increase as snow and ice melts, but the drought and relating decrease in rainfall thats been experienced throughout Europe in the past year will affect the refueling of hydro reserves requiring more water to be used than is stored.

The amount of power demand and rainfall are key for short-term prices across the region. With the European Environment Agency stating that the annual average temperature over Europe is projected to continue increasing, more research will be required regarding how hydropower will continue to enhance the European Union’s water supply security and stability.

Read More:
World Water Forum 2012 Eurelectric Report, Hydro in Europe: Powering Renewables
European Commission on Hydropower
Deutsche Bank Research: Hydropower in Europe [PDF]
Bloomberg Businessweek: “Lowest Swiss Water Levels in 13 Years Set to Boost Power Prices”