What Do Receeding Glaciers mean for Hydro Power?

Hydroelectric energy is the most widely used form of renewable energy around the globe- and because of that, scientists and anyone who is paying attention to what is going on with the glaciers around the world is a bit concerned with how fast they are melting.

Will it affect the hydroelectric energy industry? I’ll admit, it’s not on the top of my list of concerns. I think we will have many more pressing problems before we run out of glacier melt to power our hydroelectric power plants… but it is an interesting thing to even worry about. With growing worldwide water shortages, I always worry about people have clean water to drink and use for bathing, not having it to use for hydro power…

But take Switzerland: If the Himilayas are the “water tower” for Asia, Switzerland is for Europe. It is the source of all of Europe’s big rivers and does all of the heavy lifting in the way of agriculture and power (including nuclear). Glaciologist Andreas Bauder predicts that the Rhone glacier will be gone by the end of the century.

Water trickles down white-blue crevasses and ice cracks and creaks as Bauder, who for Zurich technical university spends about 20 to 30 days a year working on Swiss glaciers, explains that most of the mighty Rhone glacier will be gone by the end of the century.

"Nature can adjust to the circumstances. It's just people who are much more fragile about living conditions,” he says. Now that is some wistful cynicism that I can appreciate as a writer- I had no idea glaciologists were that poetic with tragedy. Maybe it’s all that time in the cold and the wind- afterall, Dante’s Satan did live in the icy depths of the innermost ring of Hell.

It seems that water has disappeared to the “critical” level in Boliva, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador- this according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While glaciers have been recorded as decreasing since the end of the 19th Century, the immediacy of the problem is alarming for the over 1 billion people who live in glacier/ snowmelt – fed river basins.  Scientists say that some areas where glaciers melt will end up receiving more rainfall- which would make up for the loss of melt, as far as hydroelectric power goes.

Another issue to deal with is water storage. In the past there was more water falling in the spring and summer- but if predictions are correct, there will be more rainfall in the winter. This will change how the utilities manage the water in the lakes of the Alps to ensure enough water to supply the hydroelectric electricity.

“The role of Switzerland as a water tower will become more important for the rest of Europe with climate change and changing precipitation," said Bruno Schaedler, a Bern University hydrologist.
In the end, it sounds like the hydroelectric industry will have to change to adapt, but won’t be going anywhere entirely. The same can’t be said, though, for glacier-trekking industres…

Photo Credit under CCL: AddedEntry