The future of Alpine Run-of-River hydropower production: Climate change, environmental flow requirements, and technical production potential.

Wechsler, Tobias; Manfred, Stähli; Klaus, Jorde; Massimiliano, Zappa; Schaefli, Bettina (2023). The future of Alpine Run-of-River hydropower production: Climate change, environmental flow requirements, and technical production potential. The Science of the total environment, 890(163934), p. 163934. Elsevier 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163934

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Past studies on the impacts of climate change (CC) on Alpine hydropower production have focused on high-head accumulation power plants. We provide one of the first comprehensive, simulation-based studies on CC impacts on Alpine Run-of-River (RoR) production, also considering effects of environmental flow requirements and technical increase potential. We simulate future electricity production under three emissions scenarios for 21 Swiss RoR plants with a total production of 5.9 TWh a-1. The simulations show an increase in winter production (4 % to 9 %) and a decrease in summer production (-2 % to -22 %), which together lead to an annual decrease of about -2 % to -7 % by the end of the century. The production loss due to environmental flow requirements is estimated at 3.5 % of the annual production; the largest low-elevation RoR power plants show little loss, while small and medium-sized power plants are most affected. The potential for increasing production by optimising the design discharge amounts to 8 % of the annual production. The largest increase potential is related to small and medium-sized power plants at high elevations. The key results are: i) there is no linear relationship between CC impacts on streamflow and on RoR production; the impacts depend on the usable streamflow volume, which is influenced by the Flow Duration Curve, environmental flow requirements, and design discharge; ii), the simulated production impacts show a strong correlation (>0.68) with the mean catchment elevation. The plants at the highest elevations even show an increase in annual production of 3 % to 23 %, due to larger shares of precipitation falling as rain instead of snow. These general results are transferable to RoR production in similar settings in other Alpine locations and should be considered in future assessments. Future work could focus on further technical optimisation potential, considering detailed operational data.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Wechsler, Tobias, Schaefli, Bettina


900 History > 910 Geography & travel








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Date Deposited:

11 May 2023 14:35

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2023 00:15

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Uncontrolled Keywords:

Alps Climate change Design discharge Environmental flow Hydropower Run-of-River power plants




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