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Alps hydro: A dry Easter

Eylert Ellefsen
Archived blog post. This blog post has been transferred from our previous blogging platform. Links and images may not work as intended.

The hydrological balance in the Alps areas dropped 9 TWh over the last 30 days, EQ's hydrology analysis shows. That translates to a 4000 MW shortfall for every hour during a 3-month summer period.

The reduction in the hydro resources varied much among the four countries included (Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy). Details for each area follow.


We entered the year with a high surplus. The hydrological balance moved down and stabilized during February followed by sharply increasing level in the first half of March. From then on there has been a downward trend which we expect to continue during the Easter. A detailed discussion can be found below.

Simulated development in the hydrological balance and snow/groundwater deviation for the period 1 January to 15 April. The last 15 days are forecasted.

Easter outlooks

We currently see an interesting development in the hydrological balance and snow/groundwater levels: Since mid-March, it has been very dry weather with little precipitation. This dry situation is forecasted to continue during Easter.

The actual precipitation 15 March until 31 March has been 31% of normal, while the forecasted precipitation from 1 April until 15 April is 24% of normal. This translates to a total deficit of 9.8 TWh from mid-March to mid-April. The 9.8 TWh loss is more or less equivalent to changes in the snow/groundwater.

Actual and forecasted pricipitation 15 March to 15 April.

Does the coronavirus affect the hydro balance?

In principle, yes.

Low demand and depressed power prices will, all thing equal, yield incentives for the hydro producers to reduce the production from hydro reservoirs. Cet.par. these effects improve the hydro balance.

This can be observed in the above chart as well. The snow deviation falls faster than the hydro balance that we expect to level out at -4 TWh. 

Can the falling hydro reservoir offset the falling demand?

Only to a modest degree.

The falling reservoir levels (4000 MWh/h) corresponds only to a fraction of the reduced consumption fall we have seen lately. For more information, see our blog post on the consumption effect of the coronavirus.

That said, nobody knows how long the shutdown will last, and how it will develop and spill over into changed economic activity and hence depressing power demand.

Details for Q1-2020

The hydrological resource and snow package across the Alps has followed the varying precipitation conditions we have seen since New Year.

Snow- and groundwater Q1-2020

By New Year the snow- and groundwater level for FR+IT+CH+AT was nearly 5 TWh above the normal, while by 1 April we saw a deficit of -3 TWh. Accordingly, we see that the hydrological balance has declined from about 8 TWh surplus by New Year to zero by 1 April.

The current hydrological balance in the Alps is normal, with a snow deficit of -3 TWh and consequently a +3 TWh surplus in water reservoirs. 

The water reservoirs have been above the normal since Q4-19 after the wet autumn.

Hydrological balance and snow/groundwater in the Alps.

Precipitation Q1-2020

See the table below for monthly precipitation numbers. It is interesting to see how Austria and Switzerland are well correlated, while France and Italy show different profiles. In general, January was very dry across all four countries while February and March as an average were close to normal.

France and Italy experienced most of the precipitation deficit we saw during Q1. The total precipitation deficit ended up at 7.9 TWh for Q1.

Precipitation as percentage of normal precipitation in the Alps.

EQ follows the situation

EQ will monitor the hydropower situation during the spring and write updated blog posts. Contact us if you have any questions, or sign up to follow development yourself.

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