Austria’s alpine topography, numerous rivers and high precipitation present the country with significant water resources.
Hydropower today accounts for more than half of total installed power generating capacity.
The sector has played an instrumental role in the development of the energy sector, with the first commercial hydroelectric generators powering lights as early as 1884.
Hydropower blossomed after the First World War due to growing electricity demand and a severe shortage of coal resulting from the loss of large coal fields when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved. The development of hydropower helped to reduce severe unemployment and improved local air quality, so much so that politicians referred to hydropower affectionately as “white coal”.
Hydropower experienced another boom after the annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938, when a number of projects were started, only for many to stall during the Second World War. The sector experienced another revitalisation following the injection of funds from the European Recovery Program in the 1950s and continued as the economy strengthened in the 1960s and 1970s.
Large projects came under scrutiny during the 1980s due to environmental and social concerns, and consequently more recent development has focused mainly on small-scale applications, with a few exceptions, notably pumped storage projects.
More than 3,000 hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, with a further 2,000 very small projects used for on-site consumption off the grid.
Ninety-five per cent of the country’s grid-connected plants have an installed capacity of less than 10 MW, delivering about 14 per cent of total hydropower generation. The remainder, some 158 projects with capacities greater than 10 MW, provide more than 90 per cent of installed capacity and deliver 86 per cent of total hydropower generation.
In addition to supporting the integration of variable renewables, hydropower development is driven by increasing electricity demand and the will to increase energy security to reduce energy and fuel imports. Forecasts have shown Austrian electricity demand increasing by 14-20 TWh by 2030.
With an estimated technical and economic potential of 56.1 TWh, Austria has exploited some 75 per cent of its potential. According to a 2008 Pöyry study, the remaining economically and environmentally feasible potential totals 12.8 TWh. According to the Austrian Electricity Strategy, Empowering Austria, 6 to 8 TWh could be developed up to 2030.
Read the detailed country profile in the 2018 Hydropower Status Report.