A country well known for its high mountain plateaus, abundant natural lakes and steep valleys and fjords, Norway’s topography lends itself perfectly to hydropower development. Hydropower provided the basis for the nation’s industrialisation in the late 19th century, and remains the backbone of its power system.
Hydropower regularly accounts for more than 90 per cent of total Norwegian power production, with the small remainder made up by thermal and wind.
The current average age of hydropower and dam infrastructure in the country is just under 50 years; this is triggering refurbishments and upgrades through the country, as well as environmental improvements.
As a result of climate change, the country is experiencing an increase in average inflow feeding its river systems, adding a further incentive for extension projects. Some of these projects can involve including new catchment areas or increasing the size of the reservoirs and turbines to accommodate increased inflow.
The introduction of renewable energy certificates in 2003, and the merging in 2012of the Norwegian and Swedish certificate markets, has resulted in a boom of smaller-scale (in this case 10 MW or less) hydropower projects throughout Norway. Investors were able to quickly identify opportunities after the Norwegian Water Resource and Energy Directorate published country-wide mapping for potential sites in 2004. Over 350 small- scale hydropower projects have been commissioned since 2003, and the number is expected to grow.
The Norwegian power system benefits from an integrated, open electricity market (Nord Pool) shared with the neighbouring countries Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The Nordic system is also interconnected with a number of other countries via high-voltage direct current (DC) transmission lines. DC connections exist from Sweden to Germany and Poland, as well as a recently completed interconnector to Lithuania. Norway also has a DC line to the UK, the Netherlands and Russia, while Finland is connected to Estonia and Russia.
This extent of interconnectors provides ample export opportunities for Norwegian hydropower. The recently commissioned North SeaLink, a 1400 MW HVDC interconnection between Norway and the UK, has enabled the export of 4.6 TWh of clean energy in its first year of operation.