Hydropower is our planet's largest source of renewable energy, accounting for almost 20 % of total global electricity generation. The beauty of hydropower is threefold: water is a renewable resource, an inexpensive power and hydropower is emission-free (no fuel combustion = no air pollution).
For over a century Northern Europe, and Norway in particular, has relied heavily on hydropower as its main source of electricity generation. The mountainous topography, plentiful lakes and waterfalls of Scandinavia and the Alps make these regions ideal for large-scale hydropower installations. Indeed, more than 99 % of Norway's domestic electricity production is powered by water. And over the decades, Norwegians have amassed an impressive reservoir of expertise in hydropower technology. Around the globe, Norwegian companies provide the know-how for every phase of development and for projects of all sizes, from initial planning and implementation of colossal hydropower schemes to rehabilitation of existing facilities.
Planning for the Purest Power
Although modern hydropower can produce electricity without emitting pollutants, hydro schemes require meticulous planning and execution to prevent ecological damage. Norwegian consultancy firms specialize in implementing goal-oriented planning procedures, including environmental impact assessment, in order to satisfy the demands of stakeholders and end-users. The companies also adhere to national and multinational regulations, and determine the correct type of infrastructure needed. Norwegians prioritise finding effective measures to conserve terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, adapting cost-effective techniques to specific ecological conditions and natural processes, and setting strict limits on the construction of potentially disfiguring process infrastructure such as roads and buildings. Norwegian designers and contractors are internationally renowned for their innovative designs and techniques when constructing effective and affordable dams, reservoir terraces, underground plants and hydropower tunnels that do not lead to topographical disruption and water pollution. Norway's hydropower equipment manufacturers are world leaders in producing high-head turbines as well as monitoring systems designed to handle remote operations. They also produce transmission equipment that can withstand extreme climatic conditions and blend in harmoniously with the landscape.
The classic, most common type of hydropower plant features a dam on a river to create a reservoir. Water released from this reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it and activating a generator to produce electricity. Smaller hydropower plants can simply use a small canal to direct a river's water through the turbine.
Another type of hydropower facility, the pumped storage plant, can actually store power in the form of potential energy. The facility's electric generators can "borrow" electricity from the power grid to spin its turbines backward, pumping water uphill, where its potential energy is stored in the reservoir for later use. When the power is needed again later, the water is simply released from the upper reservoir to spin the turbines forward once again, activating the generators to produce electricity.
|Eksportfinans has participated in the financing of the Brazil hydroelectric power plant in Costa Rica, which Statkraft Grøner AS has helped to construct.
Emerging Hydro Markets
In Western Europe, large-scale hydro has nearly reached its full potential. Western European countries are planning just nine new large-scale (over 30 MW) hydro installations through 2044. The largest such new installation, Germany's 1,060-MW pumped storage plant in Thuringia, is due to come online in 2003.
Gaustadtoppen links 600 Norwegian power stations, large and small.
The reasons for the paucity of new large hydro projects in Western Europe vary from country to country. Norway, for instance, has already exploited its own possibilities for large-scale hydro projects, and its wilderness is protected by law against further hydropower development. In some countries, the present power tariffs remove the economic incentive for constructing large hydropower projects. In the long run, power produced from water is much cheaper than other sources, but the initial investment costs for building the infrastructure are high.
Projects for micro hydropower plants, however, seem to be thriving in Western Europe. To date, there are 23 such facilities planned with a total capacity of 42.5 MW. Japan is also focusing on developing its micro-hydroelectric capacity.
Unlike Europe or the US, Asia is a huge potential market where there is strong political support for the construction of large-scale hydro projects. New, large-scale hydroelectric projects are expected to provide much of the region's growth in renewable energy generation. China, India, Malaysia, and other developing Asian countries continue to construct or plan large-scale hydropower projects. China is currently undertaking the two biggest hydropower projects in the world. The Three Gorges Dam project, which makes use of turbine designs by Norway's GE Hydro, is slated for completion in 2009 and will be the world's largest hydropower generation facility (18,000 MW from 26 generators). To make way for it, one to two million people are being resettled. Another 75,000 people will need to be relocated for China's second largest hydropower installation, the 5,400-MW Hongshui River project, also to be finished in 2009.
India's gargantuan Narmada Valley Development Project includes 30 large dams, 135 medium and 3,000 small dams. Although total capacity of the project will approach 3,000 MW of much-needed electricity, the Narmada Valley project, like most large hydro projects, has been criticised for uprooting hundreds of thousands of residents.
|Installation of a 4.1-m diameter pump turbine runner at Tianhuangping.