Balancing renewable energy production with ecosystem services

During 2014 the Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM) Policy and Science Interface (PSI) group further developed IIASA’s BeWhere model to optimize hydropower systems.

© Stockr | Dreamstime

© Stockr | Dreamstime

Hydropower is already pervasive in the Alps, providing about 100 TWh of power for the region. There are many potential places in the Alps for more hydropower plants. But how much would it cost to build them and the necessary infrastructure to transfer their energy to the grid? Moreover, how much would increasing hydropower capacity impact the environment and ecosystem services?

At the World Water Week in Stockholm, 31 August-5 September 2014, ESM researcher Sylvain Leduc presented – broadcast live on The Guardian - new research on the potential for hydropower in the Alps. (Video stream of session available

As part of the project, PSI scientists are exploring the potential to increase hydropower production in the Alps. Potential locations for new plants have been modeled as well as the potential costs and benefits of such constructions. The extended BeWhere model takes into account slopes, water flows, power grid connections, existing hydropower plants, and the size of hydropower plants. As in all PSI work, the model also takes into account the potential impact on the services provided by the environment (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Example of results from the BeWhere hydro model for a Business as Usual Scenario (left) and a High Carbon Tax Scenario (right), presenting the location and capacity of potential new hydro power stations calculated under cost-minimization assumptions. (click on image to enlarge).

PSI scientists were also invited to present the project results at the 2nd Global Land Project’s Open Science Forum 2014 in Berlin, Germany, and at the IUFRO World Congress 2014, where the developed Marginal Protection Cost Curve (MPCC) approach was showcased. This indicated the increasing costs of producing renewable energy while at the same time increasing the protection of land (Figure 2), which is taken from that presentation.

Florian Kraxner was invited to present the latest results from IIASA at the International Energy Workshop in Beijing, China.

Figure 2. Marginal Protection Curves – Concept. Biomass used for energy purposes versus biomass availability in the Alps/Vorarlberg, Austria, considering trade with (left) and without using protected areas (right). If protected areas are excluded, then at low levels of biomass availability, less biomass is used for bioenergy. If the full increment can be used, the biomass used is the same regardless of whether protected areas are in- or excluded. While the price relative to fossil-fuel-based energy is less important at lower rates of biomass availability, up to 50 PJ more biomass will be used for bioenergy if the full increment is used in response to a subsidy which makes fossil fuels 2.5 times more expensive than biomass (click on image to enlarge).


[1] Svadlenak-Gomez K, Badura M, Kraxner F, Fuss S, Vettorato D, Walzer C (2013). Valuing Alpine ecosystems: the project will help decision-makers to reconcile renewable energy production and biodiversity conservation in the Alps; eco.mont Journal on Protected Mountain Areas Research 05/2013; DOI:10.1553/ecomont-5-1s59 LGB.

[2] Yamgata Y, Kraxner F, Aoki K (2011). Forest biomass for regional energy supply in Austria. Chapter 5.1 in:  Designing Our Future: Perspectives on Bioproduction, Ecosystems and Humanity. Mitsuru Osaki, Ademola Braimoh and Kenichi Nakagami (Eds). Sustainability Science 4, ISBN 978-92-808-1183-4, 425p, April 2010.

[3] Kraxner F, Nordström E-M, Obersteiner M, Havlík P, Gusti M, Mosnier A, Frank S, Valin H, Fritz S, McCallum I, Kindermann G, See L, Fuss S, Khabarov N, Böttcher H, Aoki K, Máthé L (2013). Global bioenergy scenarios - Future forest development, land-use implications and trade-offs. Biomass and Bioenergy (2013),

[4] Wetterlund E, Leduc S, Dotzauer E, Kindermann G (2013). Optimal use of forest residues in Europe under different policies - second generation biofuels versus combined heat and power. Biomass Conversion and Biorefinery, 3 (1):3-16.

[5] Schmidt J, Schönhart M, Biberacher M, Guggenberger T, Hausl S, Kalt G, Leduc S, Schardinger I, Schmid E (2012). Regional energy autarky: potentials, costs and consequences for an Austrian region. Energy Policy, 47:211-221


Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons & Climate Change, (MCC), Germany

The European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC)

University of Innsbruck, Austria

Environment Agency Austria

Regional Development Vorarlberg, Austria

Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Austria

International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA)

Slovenia Forest Service

WWF Austria

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Last edited: 12 May 2015


Florian Kraxner

Research Group Leader and Principal Research Scholar Agriculture, Forestry, and Ecosystem Services Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

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Models/Tools/Data – balancing Alpine energy and nature

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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