Environmental Technology, News

Hydropower – leading the way to a renewable future

Norway is a nation fuelled by hydropower. In fact, 99% of its electricity comes from hydropower generators. It is a statistic that eclipses all other industrialized nations. Norway’s annual output of around 120TWh is far superior to even its closest...

This is the background; in the foreground, institutions such as NTNU (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and SINTEF Energy Research, international companies like Statkraft – one of Scandinavia’s largest energy producers – and various collaborative entities such as the Centre for Renewable Energy – are at the heart of researching and developing new and existing technologies.

“A core element of the Government’s policies is to be in the forefront when developing our renewable energy resources and using them efficiently,” Norway’s Oil and Energy Minister, Terje Riis-Johansen, told the Scandinavian Renewable Energy Forum. “This includes a continued development of hydropower as well as increased development of other renewable energy resources.”

Norway is in the unique position globally of accounting for up to 99% of its total electricity demand through hydropower.
© Statkraft

Commercial Specialists

Norway also contributes significantly to the production and engineering of specific elements essential to hydropower production around the world. Hydroenergi AS is one such example, having secured a niche in the production and delivery of turbines and control systems for small and medium hydro power plants. The Gjøvik based company has international experience, having delivered turbines to Italy, Turkey, Iran and the Baltic states, and offers Francis, Pelton, Kaplan and Propeller turbines, as well as hydraulic control systems, generators and transformers and other specific systems for local and international markets, based on the company’s inherited expertise from its own power stations. Small Turbine Power AS (STP), established with origins in the work of NTNU’s Hydropower Laboratory in Trondheim, also produces its own, patented range of turbines with a range of 500 kW – 10MW. The company is owned by a number of large Norwegian power companies, including Tinfos AS.

Other leading niche contractors include Giertsen Tunnel AS, which specializes in the waterproofing of tunnels and rock caverns. The WG Tunnel Sealing (WGTS) system has a number of applications, and has been used at hydropower stations around the world.

Taking Hydropower Abroad

Norway’s 99% hydropower electricity production statistic compares very favourably with the worldwide statistic of around 19%. Professor Ånund Killingtveit, at NTNU’s Department of Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering, explains the origins of the situation when hydropower development started in Norway, before oil was found. “Norway had the resources and the determination to develop hydropower, and not much of the other energy resources (coal and so on). Hydropower could be developed and scaled up from small to larger power plants, which are well geographically distributed,” he says.

This has led to Norwegian expertise being actively sought out across the globe, and is especially relevant in areas where the geography most closely resembles Norwegian hydropower sites. The state-owned company, Statkraft, is Norway’s largest hydropower producer, accounting for around 40% of the production in Norway. Statkraft operates a number of power stations around the world, and recently acquired new projects in Turkey for the development of seven hydropower plants to the tune of EUR 600-700 million. “We are extremely pleased with this agreement. Statkraft will be taking over a portfolio of profitable hydropower projects, which will provide Turkey with more clean energy – while establishing a foothold for Statkraft in the Turkish market, which is in the process of becoming integrated into the European energy market,” said Bård Mikkelsen, President and CEO of Statkraft. Global Investment Holdings, a Turkish company has agreed to sell the projects that were operated by its subsidiary, Yesil Enerji.

Statkraft also operates 58 hydropower plants in Sweden, 11 in Germany, 4 in Finland and one in the UK. In addition, Statkraft is at the forefront of consultancy work in regions such as the Balkans, where it has an office in Serbia and projects in Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. In these regions, Statkraft’s ability to draw on expertise stretching back well over a hundred years is a fact. Ever since the state bought its first power plant at Paulafossen in 1895, Norway’s unrivalled historical competence has been a factor in securing worldwide consultancy and development contracts.

Statkraft, together with Norfund, which aims to invest risk capital in profitable business in developing countries, formed a new company, Statkraft Norfund Power Invest AS (SN Power) in 2002. With its headquarters in Oslo, the company operates a number of hydropower plants in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Part of SN Power’s aim, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals, is to dramatically increase global electricity production, is to reduce poverty through appropriate use of efficient, renewable technologies. Examples of some of SN Power’s projects and operations include the Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant in the Philippines, the Khimti Hydropower Plant in Nepal and the Malana Hydropower Plant in India.

Statkraft’s research and development projects highlight the company’s desire to remain ahead of the game worldwide. Amongst them is a project, Vakle, designed to assess the significance of climate change as a result of global warming where it affects the management of – especially regulated – river systems. The project aims to discuss methods of improving environmental conditions and assess the possible effects of abiotic changes from a new climate and patterns of power generation, including their effect on life in the river systems. Another project, Hydrofish, aims improve the management of alpine reservoirs such that negative impacts on fish and aquatic organisms are avoided.

Tingueririca valley in Chile, where SN Power is involved in several hydropower projects. Hydropower is an important both in terms of the environment and development. 
© SN Power

The World’s Largest Power Derivatives Exchange

In many areas of the world, hydropower is a highly effective way to harness natural resources whilst simultaneously meeting global environmental targets. “Investment in developing countries will help to reduce emissions at a lower cost than would have been the case in industrialized nations,” said Nord Pool’s President, Torger Lien (Nord Pool Annual Report, 2006). Nord Pool is the world’s largest multinational exchange for trading electrical power, and has become the model for the potential establishment of similar stable energy markets around the world. In recent years, Nord Pool’s consultancy division has shared expertise with, amongst others, France’s Powernext and Japan’s Techno Research Institute, as the astounding success of the Scandinavian model has attracted worldwide attention.

Developing New Methodologies & Technology

Norway is host to a number of organizations and institutions concerned with improving existing hydropower technology, and increasing the global reach of this effective, but often underdeveloped, renewable resource. Historically, there have been a number of barriers to increasing the number of countries from using hydropower to the same extent as Norway. The high cost of initial investment is amongst them. “Many countries have developed their hydropower resources, but few could supply nearly 100% of electricity from hydro alone,” says Killingtveit. “But cheap oil and coal with low initial investment compared to hydro may have been important,” he adds.

Research into new methodologies and technology is an important area of concentration for the Norwegian hydropower industry, with important institutions, including SINTEF Energy Research, NTNU and the Centre for Renewable Energy (SFFE). There is a strong sense of cooperation between the research institutions; SFFE for example consists of NTNU, SINTEF and IFE (The Institute for Energy Technology), and the specialized hydropower laboratory at NTNU, (Vannkraftlaboratoriet) in Trondheim is also the site of close industry cooperation. At these institutions, projects include assessments of the environmental impact of hydropower, the design of individual machines and components, and, at NTNU’s hydraulic laboratory, research within dam security, river engineering and the intake and transport of water. The Water Power Laboratory at NTNU and the Hydro Lab in Nepal are also important cooperative partners.

Norwegian hydropower plants and technology are amongst the best in the world. Statkraft accounts for around 40% of the production in Norway. 
© Statkraft

The Future of Hydropower

Amongst the important institutions working within hydropower in Norway is a new centre, CEDREN (the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy) is currently being established, and is one of the 7 new centres for research on renewable energy (SFFE), selected in February this year. CEDREN is the only one to focus on hydropower. With both a local and global perspective, the centre will focus on the development and dissemination of environmentally and socially responsible design solutions for renewable energy production. Elsewhere, the International Centre for Hydropower (ICH) in Trondheim is an international company and organization association, promoting the industry and increasing competence and awareness across the industry.

As climate change and environmental issues continue to be of the utmost importance nationally and internationally, the growing potential of hydropower energy production is becoming increasingly important. SFFE estimates that only 25-30% of economically viable hydropower installations are so far being exploited globally, which leaves a huge opportunity in the path of Norwegian companies and institutions that have proved themselves, time and time again, as world-leading experts. An energy source that leaves such a small ecological footprint cannot be ignored for long.