Many people look at the melting ice of the world and see glaciers as half empty. Swiss scientists see them as full of hydroelectric and freshwater storage opportunities.
The largely theoretical study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature examined 185,000 glaciers worldwide and determined how environmental, technical and economic factors would allow the construction of dams to harness both the glacier's power and value. of water itself. If all such sites were dropped, the amount of electricity produced would equal 7% of the world's total electricity consumption in 2015, or 35% of the world's dams production.
"Building a dam at all glacier sites is neither realistic, nor sustainable, nor desirable," the authors emphasize. The value of such an ambitious virtual civil engineering exercise is worth considering, given the potentially "important contributions to national energy supplies, especially in High Mountain Asia, "a region with so much ice that it is informally called the Third Pole.
In addition to the huge amount of hydropower, the authors found that the glaciers could hold a combined 48% of runoff from current glaciers. This is particularly important in arid regions, where such reserves act as a hedge against future water shortages.
Nearly one-third of the potential power comes from 1
The hydroelectric industry is already facing higher costs as operators expect to struggle with both extreme weather and declining capacity in the coming years.
However, large hydropower projects are rarely planned, funded and built without significant debate and opposition, which is why researchers chose sites with an eye to minimizing environmental impact rather than maximizing potential revenue. The team generated rough cost estimates for each site that included the dam itself, power stations, operation and transmission to the nearest grid. Around 60% of the theoretical maximum for plants may have production costs below 50 cents per kilowatt hour.
"The uncertainties are high," said Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center who was not involved in the study, "and it is quite unlikely that new reservoir construction will be allowed in most countries."  More Must-Read Stories from Fortune :
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