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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 07 Oct 2019

Submitted as: research article | 07 Oct 2019

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Risks and opportunities for a Swiss hydropower company in a changing climate

Kirsti Hakala1, Nans Addor2, Thibault Gobbe3, Johann Ruffieux3, and Jan Seibert1,4 Kirsti Hakala et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, 8057, Switzerland
  • 2Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, United Kingdom
  • 3Energy Board, Groupe E SA, Granges-Paccot, 1763, Switzerland
  • 4Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, 750 07, Sweden

Abstract. Anticipating and adapting to climate change impacts on water resources requires a detailed understanding of future hydroclimatic changes and of stakeholders' vulnerability to these changes. However, climate change impact studies are often conducted at a spatial scale that is too coarse to capture the specificity of individual catchments, and more importantly, the changes they focus on are not necessarily the changes most critical to stakeholders. While recent studies have combined hydrological and electricity market modeling, they tend to aggregate all climate impacts by focusing solely on reservoir profitability, and thereby provide limited insights into climate change adaptation. Here, we collaborated with Groupe E, a hydropower company operating several reservoirs in the Swiss pre-Alps and worked with them to produce hydroclimatic projections tailored to support their upcoming water concession negotiations. We started by identifying the vulnerabilities of their activities to climate change and then together chose streamflow and energy indices to characterize the associated risks. We provided Groupe E with figures showing the projected climate change impacts, which were refined over several meetings. The selected indices enabled us to simultaneously assess a variety of impacts induced by changes on i) the seasonal water volume distribution, ii) low flows, iii) high flows, and iv) energy demand. We were hence able to identify key opportunities (e.g., the future increase of reservoir inflow in winter, when electricity prices are historically high) and risks (e.g., the expected increase of consecutive days of low flows in summer and fall, which is likely to make it more difficult to meet residual flow requirements). This study highlights that the hydrological opportunities and risks associated with reservoir management in a changing climate depend on a range of factors beyond those covered by traditional impact studies. We also illustrate the importance of identifying stakeholder needs and using them to inform the production of climate impact projections. Our user-centered approach is transferable to other impact modeling studies, in the field of water resources and beyond.

Kirsti Hakala et al.

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Kirsti Hakala et al.

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Latest update: 18 Feb 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Under a changing climate, reliable information on future hydrological conditions is necessary to inform water resource management. Here we collaborated with a hydropower company who selected streamflow and energy demand indices. Using these indices, we identified stakeholder needs and used this to tailor the production of our climate change impact projections. We show that opportunities and risks for a hydropower company depend on a range of factors beyond those covered by traditional studies.
Under a changing climate, reliable information on future hydrological conditions is necessary to...