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Decadal hydro-glaciological forecasts for the Swiss hydropower sector in high mountain catchments

Many Swiss dams are collecting runoff from glacierized catchments. Here the Griessee (german for Gries lake) and the homonymous glacier - one of the study sites of the project (Foto: M. Funk, VAW)

Through the stepwise cessation of the nuclear energy production decided by the Swiss Government, Switzerland faces the challenge of replacing about 40% of its current electricity production by 2035. The EnergyStrategy2050, which has been elaborated in this context, retains that this goal can only be achieved through an increase in energy efficiency and a promotion of so called "new renewables". During the transition to this envisioned, new concept of energy supply, an already available and well established technology will, however, play a central role: Hydropower. The Federal Council estimates that a 10% increase in hydropower production will be necessary by 2050 in order to guarantee the safety of supply. This requires a production increase in a sector that is already highly optimized.

The goal of this project is to support achieving the targets defined in the EnergyStrategy2050 through the provision of decadal, hydro-glaciological forecasts for high-alpine catchments exploited for hydropower production. The forecasts will address variables that are relevant for both the energy production and the infrastructure of hydropower plants.

In contrast to the better known short-term forecasts or long-term climate projections, decadal predictions target at a middle-term horizon (from months to one decade). To this end, decadal predictions use the present-day information about particular components of the climate system that show a certain persistency on the addressed time scale (e.g. the temperature distribution within the oceans). The project explores how such forecasts issued by the climatological community can be used in the hydro-glaciological context. The so gained information will then be processed according to the needs of the hydropower sector. This will be possible through the numerical representation of the relevant processes in a modeling framework. Particular interest in this kind of forecasts is given by so called "hindcasts", i.e. retrospective forecasts that allow assessing the accuracy of the predictions. Thus, differently than for simulations driven by given climate scenarios, the project aims not only at providing a given set of projection, but also at providing an estimate of its accuracy.

The project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation is embedded in the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research – Supply of Electricity (SCCER-SoE).

Project team

  • Daniel Farinotti
  • Saskia Gindraux