Hydropower transforms the water’s kinetic energy into electrical energy. Like wind and solar power, hydropower does not emit any greenhouse gases. The use of hydropower is firmly anchored in Austrian electricity history; the country’s topography enables hydropower generation to cover about 55% of electricity demand.

Hydropower station in Rosental (Carinthia)
Hydropower station in Rosental (Carinthia)

The heart of a hydropower station is its turbine. Turbines basically work like pumps, but input and output are reversed. Pumped storage power stations have the particular advantage that they make electricity storable. Water (and its kinetic power) is stored at (or pumped up to) high-elevation locations and can be released at any time. This is ideal for covering peak demand.

Hydropower stations can be classified according to different criteria. Basic functioning and location make for run-of-river plants, storage plants and pumped-storage power plant. Another distinction is according to pressure levels (i.e. slope): low-head stations with a head of up to 20m, medium-head stations with a head between 20m and 100m and high-head stations with heads between 100m and 2,000m. The construction type is a third criterion for a distinction between e.g. indoor, outdoor and underground stations.

Worldwide electricity generation from hydropower is about 3120 TWh annually, which corresponds to about 16% of total electricity generation. Austria’s 37 TWh are equivalent to roughly 55%. If we compare installed capacity for all technologies with installed hydropower capacity, Europe’s hydro giants are Norway, Switzerland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Austria. Hydropower capacity in the EU currently accounts for 18.4% of overall installed capacity (cf. Eurostat).