Table of contents

3.3.1. Hydropower plants

Hydropower plants are dependent on streamflow for power production. This dependency makes them sensitive to change through changes in rainfall, snowfall and snow melt, and glacier melt (Majone et al., 2016; Bonjean Stanton et al., 2016). In locations where streamflow is expected to decline, this would undermine the productivity of hydropower installations and the cost effectiveness compared to other generation technologies; an increase in streamflow would increase hydropower production.

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Hydropower generation in Europe is dominated by Nordic countries, in particular Norway and Sweden; it is also important in the Alpine region. Increased water availability is projected for most of these regions due to increasing precipitation and possibly increased glacier melt. However, hydropower is also an important energy source in southern European countries, such as Portugal, which face deceasing water availability (Teotónio et al., 2017; Bisselink et al., 2018).

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Glacial retreat due to rising temperatures can have different impacts on hydropower. In the short to mid-term, glacial retreat can increase hydropower production by increasing streamflow (see the case study in Section 4.6.2 for an example from Iceland). However, excessive water availability can challenge hydropower storage capacities, with the risk of power outages. Glacial retreat may also increase sediment formation, particularly in alpine regions. This sediment can accumulate in hydropower dams, thereby reducing storage capacity. It can also flow into water intake channels, thereby reducing water flow, while also causing turbine deterioration (Gaudard and Romerio, 2014). In the long-term, glacial retreat decreases streamflow, in particular in the spring and summer melt season. Increasing temperatures can also decrease hydropower production by increasing evaporation from dams (Baltas and Mimikou, 2005).

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