Energy in the Alps
- Hydropower and wood are the Alps' most important energy resources.
- Stated policy goals include CO2 reduction to be achieved by boosting energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
- Hydropower development and nuclear energy remain contentious.
by Helmut Haberl, University of Klagenfurt - Institute of Social Ecology - IFF Vienna
Wind turbines can be an interesting option to produce renewable energy in the Alps, especially on exposed ridges, where more wind can be expected than in the neighbouring valleys. However, even on such exposed sites, often only a medium energy output can be achieved compared to the wind-intensive sites on Europe's northern coasts (Source: H. HAEBERL).
The Alpine region is characterized by a fully-industrialized energy system with all its typical environmental problems such as large greenhouse gas emissions and a heavy dependence on exhaustible fossil energy. Demand for industrial energy is growing, thus presenting challenges to meet the stated policy goals such as CO2 reduction and a higher share of renewable energy.
Hydropower is a major energy resource available in the Alpine region. It is already used intensively in over one hundred large hydroelectric plants with a total capacity of more than 28 Gigawatt [GW]. Adding to this, hundreds of smaller hydroelectric plants also have an impact on the alpine ecosystem. The construction of new hydropower plants is contested due to their impacts on river ecosystems. The production of liquid biofuels on arable land is no suitable option for the Alpine region due to its limited agricultural potential. Wood is already contributing to energy provision as firewood or in the form of wood pellets. Increasing the energetic use of wood-derived biomass must, however, be balanced with other vital services of Alpine forests such as flood prevention or protection against landslides and avalanches.