Blessed by nature17 August 2001
When speaking about energy, the Norwegian Energy Minister believes his country has been blessed by nature. Ironically, nature is now playing an influential role in future hydroelectric development, both here and worldwide. Suzanne Pritchard reports
WHERE better to ponder the wonder of hydro power than Norway? As the rain poured down on Bergen during 20-22 June 2001, delegates at the Hydropower 01 conference began to appreciate why this area of western Norway is one of the country’s most important for water power production.
‘Norway is blessed by nature when we speak about energy,’ says Olav Akselsen, Minister of Petroleum and Energy. ‘And I am proud to say that Norway has an important role to play in this field.’
Norway is the second largest net exporter of crude oil in the world, as well as being among the three leading gas suppliers to the European gas market. But, most importantly for delegates at the international-centre-for-hydropower’s conference, Norway is the world’s sixth largest producer of hydro power. An average annual generation of 118TWh provides more than 99% of the country’s total power supplies, and has been a key factor in its development. Furthermore, Norwegian hydroelectric production is equivalent to almost 30% of total hydro power generation in Europe.
‘Without hydro power, Norway would be a totally different society,’ says Akselsen. ‘One hundred years ago we decided to use our enormous potential – hydro power. It has been a great phenomenon.’
Akselsen traced Norway’s hydro heritage. With more than a century of experience to its credit, the industry developed major hydroelectric schemes over three periods. From 1900-20 a large industry base developed on hydro power; 1945-60 witnessed reconstruction after World War II; and installing new capacity was a major industry activity from 1970-85.
At the beginning of the twentieth century hydro power was considered a beneficial resource to the whole of society. ‘Local communities have benefited from taxes, levies, power contracts and various funds,’ Akselsen explains. ‘Public participation at various levels is secured through legislation, which has extensive public consultations as a prerequisite for a democratic and thorough licensing process.’
Norway was also one of the first countries to introduce a free power market for electricity production and trading. Restructuring of the electricity sector occurred without privatisation and 85% of Norwegian hydro power is owned by the state or local authorities. ‘Furthermore,’ the Energy Minister adds, ‘our legal system secures a high degree of state control over hydro power resources.’
Such state control has not been able to avoid the situation the industry now faces. Opening up of the Norwegian electricity market for cross-border trading between Sweden, Finland and Denmark, accompanied by high precipitation, gave the impression that the energy system was oversized. Low energy prices led to little investment in new hydro power projects in what was considered to be a saturated market. Now, as Kjetil Arne Vaskinn from Statkraft Grøner says, the country has a shortage of 7-10TWh in a normal wet year. To cover demand, Norway imports electricity from other countries that produce power from coal.
Akselsen acknowledges the slump in hydro development. ‘During the last ten years, few large projects have been developed,’ he says. ‘This is partly due to a period of surplus electricity that we have now put behind us, but increased environmental considerations have also made it more difficult to develop new hydro power plants.’
‘Times have changed,’ Eivind Torblaa from Statkraft admits. ‘My father, grandfather and great-grandfather worked in hydro all of their lives. They were considered heroes. At times I now feel more like a vandal than a hero.’
Environmental considerations in developing hydro power projects are important, Torblaa says, but they have to be put in perspective. Norway is currently 20-25% away from reaching its Kyoto goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. ‘We have a choice,’ he says. ‘We have to face the danger that we will be subjected to through climate change, or we look at local environmental impacts which can be mitigated.’
Alessandro Palmieri, senior dams specialist at the World Bank, reflected on what he called the evolution of dam development practice.
The 1940s was very much the decade of the engineers, with economics playing a greater role in the 1950s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the issue of environmental impact began to emerge but was just viewed as an ‘add on’ to projects. However, the latter part of the 1980s and the whole of the 1990s saw environmentalists and socialists becoming a greater part of the ‘dam building team’.
‘The challenge now,’ says Palmieri, ‘is that we have to involve affected people in the decision process. There is absolutely no doubt that we have to do this. There is an ever greater importance on translating technical terms to project-affected people so that they can understand.’
As Vaskinn says, there needs to be a much broader view of the decision-making process: ‘The discussion of environmental effects in association with hydro power should recognise the environment as a dimension of the decision-making process, and not only as a cost element.’
Environmental considerations are high on the Norwegian government’s agenda. At the end of 2000, Parliament passed a new Water Resources Act which has been described as a milestone in the modern management of water resources. Complying with the European Union’s Directive on Water, it concentrates on protecting watercourses and assessing the impacts all types of user interests have on them. Through this, Norway has protected 35TWh/yr from future hydro power development.
‘It has been said that the period of the really large hydro power projects in Norway is over,’ the Energy Minister says. So far Norway has utilised 65% of its hydro potential, and although Akselsen is not saying no to any new developments, the situation is unlikely to change. He admits there is still considerable potential to develop through environmentally acceptable new projects but realistically the future for hydro power points elsewhere.
Upgrading existing installations or expanding existing hydro power plants will have a much greater role to play.
‘Hydro power is very important to Norway,’ Akselsen says, ‘and it is very important that we take care of what we have already developed.’
The following is taken from the keynote speech given by Geoff Sims, vice president of icold and consultant with Brown & Root in the UK, at the ICOLD European Symposium:
European geographical conditions range from the hot, nearly desert-like conditions in the Mediterranean rim to the permanent frost and ice of the Nordic countries. Therefore our needs for and use of water match those elsewhere in the world. We need reliable flood protection, irrigation, power and water supply. Our challenge is to find the best way to achieve these water needs.
The World Commission on Dams’ report has opened our senses to what others think of us, both as a profession and as an organisation. It has identified many issues but I would like to select those of particular relevance both to the European Club of ICOLD and to this symposium.
In meeting the challenges before us, of safety and the development of new projects, the importance of communication becomes a skill of dominating importance. One of our greatest challenges is to work effectively with traditional opponents of dams. In developing projects we should think of ourselves as business men and politicians in addition to being engineers.
We also have an interest, indeed a duty, to make existing projects work better. We need to rehabilitate them, to make them safer and to make them earn their keep more effectively. Rehabilitation of the existing stock of dams, and the faithful monitoring of their performance against design criteria, will be important in ensuring continuing safety of dams and in improving the communication both among ourselves, and with those outside our organisation who have a legitimate interest in the engineering of dams. This should be done on a Europe-wide basis.
In addition there is a commercial requirement for rehabilitation to be viable from an economic point of view. The engineer as a businessman must understand and be able to explain, to communicate, the value of the dam in terms of its operating costs and the benefits to be derived from its operation.
There are several reasons for rehabilitation: ageing, poor design and construction, and the poor operation and maintenance referred to by the World Commission on Dams. To judge by the titles of the papers offered to this symposium, the key issues that will dominate future discussion on rehabilitation will be remarkably close to those identified in our recent ICOLD Bulletin 119.
Ahead of all of us is the increasing interest in working underwater, often, but not always, to replace or repair old valves. A technology of the future is the use of geotextiles to provide a watertight seal to the upstream face of the dam, which becomes particularly relevant to modern needs when methods are devised for this work to be done underwater without lowering the reservoir level.
The rehabilitation of deep foundations to correct problems with internal erosion, grouting or drainage are also important topics.
We share a responsibility for the optimised use of dams in Europe. Let us grasp it.
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