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Hydropower production in the Alp region at 25 year-low after the summer drought

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

Introduction

The European Continent has experienced an extraordinarily hot and dry summer. As a result, there has been a lot of focus on reduced nuclear capacity due to higher river temperatures and low flow rates. In this blog post, EQ will focus on the hydropower situation across the Alp region – having hit the lowest production levels in 25 years this summer.  For reference, the Alp region includes Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy with an accumulated yearly production level of 187 TWh.

Findings

Hydropower production for the Alp region in 2022 is at the lowest point we have seen since 1997 (we have been studying production statistics since 1997, inflow, and other hydrological data since 2016).

The 2022 scenario is an extreme incident, where we now expect about 75% of normal production to be accounted for until the end of August. This means a power shortage of 34 TWh, an average of nearly 6.0 GWh/h since the beginning of this year.

Outlooks for the rest of Q3 and Q4 are poor. Weekly production, inflows, and hydrological balance for the area remains at a 25-year low by the middle of August.

By mid-August, the hydrological balance stands around 12-13 TWh lower than normal – again a record low for the time period in question.  A rough estimate suggests that Alpine hydropower production during Q4 will rebound to about 80%-85% of normal as the hydrological balance recovers towards the winter.

Hydrological Balance

The hydrological balance is the best indicator of available hydropower resources. Normally we see quite a normalized situation by the end of August as the hydro reservoirs fill up after the snowmelt. This year however, the snow/groundwater level is very low after the summer drought. The table below shows our estimates of the hydrological balance by the end of week 33 for each Alpine country.

As the figures show, we estimate a deficit of 11.3 TWh, in the current Alp region hydrological balance.

Below you can see the weekly statistics for the period 2016-2022. The current hydrological level is significantly lower than anything we have seen in the past 6 years. The weather outlooks towards mid-September remain drier than normal too. Consequently, the inflows will need some time to normalize, even if we see normal precipitation levels later this autumn. A rough estimate indicates that the hydropower production will return to about 80%-85% of normal levels during Q4 if we see normal weather conditions.

Inflows and Production

EQ has collated weekly statistics since 2015 to highlight the extremely low inflow and production conditions across the Alps during 2022. Inflows and production were already low from Q1, but the drought during the summer has worsened the current extreme situation.

The accumulated production in 2022 has so far accounted for roughly 74% of the average level seen since 2015, significantly below the minimum curve for 2015-2021 from week 20 onwards.

74% of normal levels means about 32 TWh lower than normal production in real terms, averaging around 6.1 GWh/h. By way of comparison, this is equivalent to around 6 nuclear production units being unavailable for power production.

Long-term Production Statistics (1997-2021)

Hydropower production this year has, for most weeks, been lower than the weekly minimum levels of production for every year since 2015. Taking a longer-term view, you can see the long-term monthly statistics since 1997 in the chart below.  This shows how extreme the current situation is as 2022 is lower than the previous minimum curve. Please note, the 2022 curve also includes a forecast for August.

Accumulated for the period January-August since 1997, the table below shows production statistics. The 2022 scenario (100 TWh) is 15 TWh lower than the previous minimum average level we have seen since 1997 - and 34 TWh lower than average for the period.

Outlooks for Q4

EQ has not made a detailed study for all the Alpine countries towards New Year, but a rough estimate suggest we will see about 80%-85% of normal hydropower during Q4 provided that we see normal weather conditions. The power supply situation across Europe remains very scarce, and we believe that the hydropower producers will utilise a moderate production strategy.

Final words

In addition to the low hydropower production from the Alps, hydropower has also been significantly reduced on the Iberian Peninsula this summer. EQ will continue to follow the hydropower situation across Europe closely on our blog towards the winter, so follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay up to date with our latest insights.

Please contact EQ if you have questions about the hydropower situation or our hydropower reports. EQ can be contacted at support@energyquantified.com.

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