Tapping the vast potential of alternative energy

Norway holds an enviably strong energy position in the world market thanks to deep resources in oil, gas and hydropower. But even with this abundant supply, Norway’s energy picture is no longer a simple matter of oil and water. The growing demand for clean, emission-free power is fuelling large scale innovation and investment in the potential of alternative energy.

Wind, geothermal, solar, tidal and osmotic power sources are being developed by a cluster of industries and research institutions across the country. According to Terje Riis-Johanse, the Minister of Energy, Norway is already well-versed in alternative energy use, “Incredibly, 60% of Norwegian energy consumption is already based on renewable energy,” he pointed out in a recent speech.

Experience with renewables and new technology applications are driving the sector towards a bright future. Large firms such as StatoilHydro, Statkraft and REC are bringing major resources to bear on their projects, while growing companies like Vindteknikk, Hammerfest Strøm, Geoenergi, and Energreen are developing niche technologies that are finding increasing markets worldwide.

Turbines for the Future
One of the most mature sectors of Norway’s alternative energy industry is wind power. With the EU setting a benchmark of receiving 20% of its total power from renewable sources by the year 2020, Norway’s profoundly windy coastline is considered to be a rich potential resource for meeting this need for clean energy.

Wind farms driven by often ferocious Norwegian sea gusts could, according to estimates, produce power equal to the output of eight nuclear plants by 2020. It will require an estimated 40 billion US dollars in investments to reach that level, but the government seems inclined to make the funding available. Another advantage of developing wind power is that it has the potential to effectively offset almost half of the country's total emissions at 2007 levels (see the article Wind & Ocean – Norway’s Next Energy Pioneers).

 

Wind and hydrogen are powering ten households with no emissions on the island of Utsira.
© StatoilHydro

 

Improving Technology
Key to unlocking the potential of wind energy are Norwegian-developed innovations like StatoilHydro’s Hywind floating turbines, which are expected to create energy at twice the rate of land technology. The Oslo-based energy giant has made a NOK 400 million investment in the project, and is planning to begin implementation in the autumn of 2009.

Hywind consists of enormous 2.3 MW wind turbines attached to a Spar-buoy and moored to the seabed using anchor points in depths up to 700 metres. Alexandra Bech Gjørv, Head of New Energy in StatoilHydro, pointed out on the company’s website that “taking wind turbines to sea presents new opportunities. The wind is stronger and more consistent, areas are large and the challenges we are familiar with from onshore projects are fewer.” She later struck a note of caution, “floating wind power is not mature technology yet, and the road to commercialization and large scale development is long.”

Hywind’s pilot project will be set up some 10 kilometres offshore western Norway. The effort has many partners; Siemens. Technip, Nexans and Haugaland Kraft are all involved, and Enova is supporting the project with NOK 59 million in funding.

 

Hammerfest Strøm AS developed the tidal mill, the first company in the world to succeed in converting kinetic energy from tidal water/streams into electrical energy that can be delivered to the commercial network.
© Hammerfest Strøm

 

Measurement & Analysis
A number of smaller specialist companies are opening their doors as the alternative energy sector grows. Kjeller Vindteknikk AS was established in 1998 with an aim of supplying expertise to the wind power industry. Today, the company is considered a leader in providing wind measurements and analysis nationwide. Kjeller’s team of meteorologists, physicists, engineers and technicians are able to create wind resource maps, find locations, perform wind measurements and analyze data and energy production calculations for clients.

Big Breakthroughs from a Small Place
On the remote island of Utsira, located off the west coast of Norway, wind power is a logical alternative. It is one of the most consistently windy places in the country, and so became the site for a groundbreaking experiment in combining wind power and hydrogen energy storage technology.

In 2004, Norsk Hydro installed two 600-kW land turbines that create enough power to fuel all the needs for 10 households on the island. The challenge with a wind-based system has always been what to do when the wind dies down.

Hydro engineers designed a solution in which the turbines store the excess energy they create during windy periods by powering electrolysers that then produce hydrogen for storage. When it is calm, a hydrogen engine and fuel cell converts the hydrogen back to electricity, which is routed to the houses, ensuring an uninterrupted flow of power.

A Rising Wave
Another Norwegian natural asset suited for energy production is the country’s long coastline. Scientists and researchers are exploring ways to harness the natural power of tides hitting coastal areas to create emission-free energy.

In fact, Norway hosts the world’s first tidal power turbine able to deliver electricity to the onshore grid. Since 2003, StatoilHydro has run a 300 kW prototype unit working at 50 metres depth off Hammerfest. The company cites their experience in subsea technology in the oil and gas industries as key to developing technologies for tidal and other sustainable energy sources.

Tidal power looks to grow in the near future. Last year, Norwegian firm Hammerfest Strøm entered an agreement with ScottishPower Renewables to further develop Norwegian technology for tidal energy sites in the United Kingdom, with an eye towards installing a full-scale tidal turbine off the country’s coast in 2010

 

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Let the Sun Shine in
One of the fastest-growing solar cell and module companies in Europe, REC Solar produces solar technology based on PV wafers. The modules, marketed mainly to distributors and project developers worldwide, are finding an increasingly large client base. The company reported a 170% increase in cell production capacity, and a 120% increase in module production in 2007.

REC’s Solar Vision subsidiary in South Africa is working with the Government there to increase the number of homes powered by alternative energy sources. Solar Vision has been contracted to install some 50,000 solar home systems in the country, and has completed the task for 10,000 homes already.

Grounded in Nature
Using the ground beneath a structure as a source or repository of energy is the basic concept of a geoenergy system. During cold months, the system functions by absorbing ground heat, then transferring it to a heat pump, which elevates the temperature to a useable level. The ground itself supplies 2–3 kW of the electricity required for the entire process.

In the summer months, the system provides cooling drawn from cooled bedrock, and requires very little electricity to drive circulation pumps, while other cooling mechanisms are unnecessary. When it is hot, the heat pump doubles as a cooling mechanism by storing the condensed heat back in the ground, effectively storing it for cooler months.
One of the leading experts in the area, Geoenergy AS, has, since its inception in 1999, been involved in large geoenergy projects in Norway and Sweden, including providing services such as site-investigations of ground thermal properties and thermal response tests.

Salt + Water = Energy
Osmotic power harvests the energy released anywhere salt and fresh water mix. The technology required is relatively simple. A large structure is needed, located at the mouth of a river, or anywhere fresh and saltwater naturally mix. Inside the structure, freshwater and saltwater are directed into two chambers which are separated by a synthetic membrane. The salt in the seawater acts to draw freshwater molecules through the membrane, leading to increased pressure on the seawater side. This pressure then drives water over an electricity-generating turbine. See the related article on Osmotic Energy.

Showcasing Renewable Energy
Norway’s annual ONS meeting is one of the most important energy conventions in the world, drawing participants from important actors in the energy industry from around the globe. The 2008 ONS gathering in Stavanger featured a renewable energy park, reflecting the higher level of commitment to renewables in every region. There is a widespread belief in the industry that the offshore sector has the expertise to develop these technologies. “We believe that much of the future for renewables such as wind, solar and wave power lies in the offshore community,” said Kjell Ursin-Smith, Managing Director of the ONS Foundation, in a press release. “That’s where a lot of the technological expertise is to be found, and we want to incorporate that. Our goal is to create an arena where the various specialists can meet,” he concluded.

Tidal power is a promising area, and Monika Bakke of WaveEnergy AS was brought in as project manager for the park. “The fact that ONS is now choosing to focus attention on renewable energy is an important signal to the industry,” she commented. “A number of the smaller players in this sector are fighting to attract attention, and we hope that the new park will help to boost many of the good initiatives now being taken.”

 

The annual ONS gathering in Stavanger featured an alternative energy park in 2008, reflecting industry’s changing emphasis.
© StatoilHydro

 

Greening Industry
One of the presenting companies at ONS was Energreen AS, winner of E-CO Clean Energy Prize 2007. The Sandnes-based company specializes in creating technology to capture energy in innovative ways, to enable businesses such as offshore oil platforms to reduce energy consumption and bring down emissions.

The company’s diffGEN turbine works to capture the energy liberated by changes in pressure, and offer crucial size and mounting flexibility to clients. The diffGEN system features dynamically adjustable downstream pressure, high flexibility on flow rate, and a small footprint with simple controls for a user-friendly interface.

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Related articles:

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Norway and the Norwegian Government are committed – both in the short and long-term – to be a tough and action-oriented leader relating to climate change policy
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