On the Symposium of the Working group on Alpine Hydropower (AGAW)

Contributed by Bettina Schaefli

Mauvoisin Dam

Mauvoisin Dam in the Swiss Alps (photo: B. Schaefli)

While many of my colleagues were enjoying a beer or two in Prague at the IUGG conference (see their twitter feedback on live here), I have been travelling to the nice little town of Innsbruck (Austria).

The this year’s AGAW symposium topic was Hydropower in competition, and had a strong focus on economic constraints on hydropower production in times of the European energy turn-around.

F. Zöchbauer from the Austrian VERBUND AG presented the interesting final results of an extensive study of the macroeconomic role of hydropower in Europe (see pdf here). This role is higher than what the relatively low electricity production share (18% of European electricity production) might suggest.

All talks about the future of Alpine hydropower strongly emphasized the high theoretical potential of an increase of pump-storage to help smoothing out electricity production peaks from wind and solar power. Two topics were interestingly almost absent:

  • the importance of increasing hydropower storage volumes to shift electricity production from summer to winter, and
  • the role of improved real-time forecasting for hydropower production.

In fact, discussions about seasonal redistribution of electricity appear to be on hold because of the urgent need to regulate intra-daily electricity fluctuations (peak load, production gradients) resulting from stochastic fluctuations of sun and wind power; these fluctuations as well as other market distortions currently lead to such absurd phenomena as negative electricity prices.

In this context, F. Pöhler from the BEW and University Kassel mentioned the concept of indirect renewable energy storage in the Swiss Alps, which would consist of saving water from Alpine accumulation lakes during periods of high input from sun and wind power. Such indirect storage could potentially contribute to avoid what is called curtailment of renewable energy (see e.g. here in post of the lead author of German Energy Transition).

Such indirect storage in existing accumulation lakes would be much less controversial than (new) pump-storage, which is a real hot topic for ecologists at the moment. The question remains, however, whether there is enough room (storage capacity) for such indirect storage.

Our work within the Swiss www.sccer-soe.ch project will hopefully give some answers. Obviously, a key ingredient for such indirect storage management are reliable inflow forecasts (coupled to wind forecasts). Such forecasts might also gain importance in the context of real-time sediment management, discussed e.g. by R. Boes from ETHZ.

It is clear that any active sediment management decision involving, e.g., the lowering of the accumulation lake level before high flow events could greatly benefit from a joint development of real-time monitoring strategies and of flow forecasts. Let’s see what role flow forecasts will play in the near future of hydropower.


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