Snow deficit to hamper Italy’s summer hydropower supply – experts
LONDON (ICIS)–A severe snowpack deficit on the Italian Alps is set to hamper water reservoirs stocks and the Po river’s levels over the summer, experts at the International Center for Environmental Monitoring (CIMA) Research Foundation told ICIS.
This could increase power supply risk in the third quarter – the hottest of the year – in two different ways. Lower hydro generation would need to be compensated by other generation sources, while low water levels on the Po could put at risk the cooling systems of the combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants located along the river basin, resulting in unplanned outages as it was the case last year.
According to market operator GME, nearly 5GW of CCGT capacity experienced outages related to water availability in the Po valley region in June and July 2022.
The snow water equivalent (SWE) deficit for the Italian Alps stood at -67% as of 16 March, CIMA’s data provided to ICIS showed, meaning that the missing snow – compared to previous years – will result in lower water volumes available over the coming months.
CIMA said that 4 March is typically the peak accumulation day for snow levels in Italy. Although further snow precipitation could still occur in the coming weeks, it is unlikely that it would meaningfully support the snowpack level as the snowmelt would accelerate over the remainder of the season.
ITALY SNOW DEFICIT
“For the Po river basin we have almost one third of the snow water equivalent level seen over the last 12 years,” Francesco Avanzi, hydrological researcher at CIMA told ICIS.
“The [snow] season started later than usual and in this ‘marathon’ to have as much snow as possible for the remainder of the year we have lost ground,” Avanzi said.
Moreover, Italy has already experienced two years of record-low precipitation, which took a heavy toll on hydro reservoirs. This means that even if snow levels were to be similar to 2022, the hydrological picture is much more critical this year, the expert added.
“The snowmelt period happening earlier than usual in recent years also adds more risks on hydro margins, with water demand [from both the energy and agriculture sectors] spiking when the snowmelt has already come to an end,” CIMA’s president, Luca Ferraris, added.
“We are entering a perfect storm,” explained Ferraris, noting that multiple factors, including rising water demand amid warmer temperatures, would also come into play this summer.
CIMA indicated that just one quarter of typical snow volumes were recorded in the Triveneto area, which includes the northern Italian regions of Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol.
Together, the Po river basin and the Triveneto area account for 90% of Italian water resources.
Italian power demand historically peaks during the months of June and July, when hot temperatures cause a surge in the usage of domestic and retail cooling appliances.
This incentivises hydro generators to hold back on releasing water flows until the height of summer, when power prices typically peak.
Snowmelt from the Alps is crucial to Italian power generation:
– Water is collected in hydro reservoirs that feed the country’s hydropower plants. These historically accounted for up to 20% of the Italian generation fleet
– After flowing down to the Po valley, the water is used to cool down natural-gas power plants
ENTSO-E data showed that hydropower reservoirs in week 10 were nearly as full as in 2022 at 27%. This was well below the 2011-2022 average of 38%.
An earlier snowmelt period and low snowpack levels in the Alps in 2022 led to lower river levels during the peak summer power demand months of June and July.
Additionally, daily average power demand surged by 1.5% over the same period due to hot temperatures raising air conditioning demand, which put significant stress on the power grid.
Both factors, combined with tight supply margins caused by below-average hydro reservoirs, led to several power outages during the period. Andrea Battaglia and David Battista
Note: Snow water volume’s graphs published with the permission of CIMA Research Foundation
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