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mountains > factfile > mountain energy

Mountain energy

Posted: 22 May 2001

Many forms of energy are produced in mountain areas, and have been essential for the economic development of neighbouring regions. The most important of these have been hydroelectricity, which is largely exported downstream, and wood, the primary energy source for most mountain people.

Especially in developing countries, mountain people tend to gain little from large-scale energy developments and to receive little compensation for the use of their resources. There is great potential for small-scale renewable energy in mountain regions, including water, wind and solar power. However, the economic incentives and necessary technologies are often not available.

  • 200,000 water mills are operational in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush. In Nepal, 1500 hydropower turbines provide milling services to 2 million people.

  • In highland Bolivia, 96 per cent of energy is used for cooking, and over 60 per cent comes from burning dung. Only 3.5 per cent of energy is used for illumination.

  • In the late 1990s, the Swiss canton of Grisons produced 7500 Giga Watts per hour (GWh) of hydroelectrity a year. Of this, 1680 GWh (23 per cent) was used locally, and the remainder was exported to downstream urban areas and industrial centres. The Canton earned US$75 million, or US$400 per capita from the sale of this energy.

  • Norway has developed 65 per cent of its hydropower potential. Iceland has developed 10 per cent of its potential. Nepal and Ethiopia have developed less than 1 per cent of theirs.

  • In the mountains of Nepal, 32 per cent of the energy required by households in used for cooking and 56 per cent for heating, compared with 40 per cent for cooking and 36 per cent for heating in lower hill areas. While traditional stoves have an energy conversion efficiency of 3-10 per cent, improved mud-built stoves have an efficiency of 15-20 per cent. Such new technologies can save wood and reduce the workload of women who are the main firewood collectors.

  • Human energy is vital for subsistence and paid work. However, while adults at sea level burn 2000 calories a day at rest, this rises to over 2500 calories at 4000-5000 metres; and hard work requires three times more energy. And our ability to do physical work decreases by 3 per cent for every 300 metres gained.


Mountain Agenda (2001) Mountains of the World: Mountains, Energy and Transport, Mountain Agenda, Bern.

P. Schwizer and K. Preiser (1997), Chapter 8 - Energy resources for remote highland areas, in B. Messerli and J.D. Ives (eds.) Mountains of the World: A Global Priority, Parthenon, New York and London.

Compiled by Dr Martin Price, Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College, within Scotland's UHI Millennium Institute, 'creating the University of the Highlands and Islands'.

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