Norway can make the difference
Thanks to its natural endowments and previous investments, Norway possesses 50% of Europe’s entire power storage capacities. Therefore, Norway is in a position to provide large-scale, cost-effective, and emission-free indirect storage to balance wind and solar generation in other countries.
The storage capacity in Germany and other European countries like United Kingdom and Benelux are tiny. Even in the Alps, storage is small compared to that in Norway.
Moreover, Norwegian “indirect storage” is particularly climate friendly because it usually doesn’t require pumping up water to use again, which causes substantial energy losses. In times of high wind or solar production, Norway can import cheap electricity from abroad, thereby saving water in its reservoirs. In times of low wind production, Norway can use the stored water to export power at higher prices. In this way, excess wind or solar production can be stored and used later.
By making its storage capacities available, Norway can help replace large amounts of fossil and nuclear generation in other countries with wind and solar energy. Of course, Norwegian storage can only be a part of the solution. Other flexibility sources and new storage technologies are being developed in Germany and in other countries. However, in the foreseeable future no large-scale storage will be possible at costs comparable to hydropower storage.
What needs to happen for Norway to assume its role? Offering more balancing power implies taking two measures: reinforcement of the power grid with transmission cables inside Norway and linking Norway to other countries; and a more intensive use of existing hydropower reservoirs. The latter does not imply building new dams (1), but rather accepting a more frequent and/or intensive oscillation of the water levels in some reservoirs and, in some cases, in the rivers below them.
How else can Norway contribute?
Energy efficiency: Every kilowatt-hour not used in Norway can be used to substitute conventional electricity in other parts of Europe. Despite recent progress, Norway still has a huge potential for energy savings, especially in the building sector (thermal insulation, more efficient heating systems).
Increase Norway’s renewable production: Norway has excellent wind, biomass, and hydro- power resources, larger and more cost-effective than many European countries. In some areas of Norway, integrating wind in the power system is easier than in most parts of Europe. Every kilo- watt-hour produced in Norway saves water in the reservoirs, and can substitute conventional power elsewhere.
Electrification of transport and of the oil industry: Norway has nearly 100% renewable electricity, but this statistic does not include the fossil fuels con- sumed by the offshore industry and the transport sector. By electrifying them, Norway can massively reduce its carbon emissions. Fears of “over supply” through additional renewable production are not justified.
(1) Eivind Solvang, Atle Harby, and Ånund Killingtveit (2012), “Increasing Balance Power Capacity in Norwegian Hydroelectric Power Stations: A Preliminary Study of Specific Cases in Southern Norway,” SINTEF TR A7195; NVE (2011), “Økt installasjon i eksisterende vannkraftverk, Potensial og kostnader,” NVE report 10-2011.