Deregulation of the Norwegian electricity industry was an effective way of making the country’s hydroelectric producers sit up and take an objective look at how they operate. The introduction of a competitive environment in 1991 changed the rules for hydro generators who produce more than 99% of the country’s electricity supplies. Post-deregulation the industry was faced with increasing confusion and unstable electricity prices. By 1992 hydro personnel realised they needed to work towards a common goal. A forum or similar initiative was required to establish an element of unity for industry players.

The international-centre-for-hydropower (ICH) was formed by 12 key members in 1994. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate; Statkraft; the Norwegian University of Science and Technology; and the Norwegian Electricity Federation were among those that helped put ICH into operation in 1995.

ICH draws on expertise acquired in the Norwegian hydro power industry over the past 110 years. ‘Competence in the Norwegian hydro power sector is good, and in some areas it is excellent,’ says Tore Jørgensen from ICH. ‘Rock mechanics, tunnelling and underground work are industry specialities. We have developed 27,000MW of hydro power, operating these installations according to strict regulations to address environmental concerns. While our main players, such as ABB and Kvaerner, have had major roles to play internationally. All of this puts Norway at the forefront as a country.’

ICH is an international association for organisations and companies in the global hydro power industry. Its objectives are to promote the industry and increase the skills of its personnel. Acting as a communications hub it utilises the expertise of members, from both mature and developing hydro industries worldwide, to address specific problems or concerns.

Membership to the International Centre for Hydropower is open to all parties involved in the development, implementation and operation of hydro power. ICH’s strategic objectives are:

  • To improve the competence of industry personnel by organising training courses and disseminating information about training.

  • To raise awareness about the benefits of hydro power by profiling its advantages to the international community, including relevant authorities.

  • To gather and disseminate technical, financial and environmental knowledge by acting as a clearing house for information relevant to the hydro power sector. It also publishes newsletters and fact sheets and maintains an active website.

  • To act as a show case for the hydro power industry by organising seminars, workshops and conferences.

  • To promote the industry by offering technical and administrative support for programmes and activities run by other organisations.


Over the years training has become a major part of ICH’s work, and it has been involved with the annex on education and training in hydro power under the international-energy-agency’s Implementing Agreement on Hydropower Technologies and Programmes. Many companies and organisations that utilise ICH’s expertise are from developing countries but Jørgensen admits that problems related to training are not any easier for more established hydro countries such as Norway.

‘Having an industry like ours can a be a bit of a disadvantage,’ he said. ‘Norway employs over 20,000 personnel in the hydro sector but demographic changes are set to have a dramatic effect on this in the near future.’ Fifty per cent of hydro staff in Sweden and Norway are set to retire within the next ten years: a problem that is intensified by the fact there is a shortage of younger engineers to fill vacant positions.

‘There’s not much activity in the home industry at present,’ Jørgensen says, ‘most of our industry is fully developed. So it’s not very interesting or attractive for younger engineers just to go into the business of operation and maintenance. There is increasing concern about the situation. Over recent years we have seen a gradual decline in admissions to relevant university courses.’

Reflecting on his home industry, Jørgensen thinks that Norwegians take their electricity for granted. ‘Hydro power generation gives us an abundance of electricity and we do not have problems with energy savings or blackouts. I just think that perhaps the Norwegian public is not aware of the true value of hydro power.’

Even though most of the country’s electricity comes from hydro, the Norwegian public’s perception of it hardly differs to the rest of the world. ‘Any proposals for new projects are immediately met with opposition,’ says Jørgensen. ‘In his new year speech this year the Prime Minister said that there will be no more major hydro power development in Norway, and this has put a stop to any discussion.’

The focus in Norway is very much on refurbishing existing installations at the present time. The country has a total installed capacity of 27,000MW with 500 plants over 1MW and more than 300 less than 1MW. The average annual production is 114TWh, although the authorities have recently upgraded this to 118TWh due to climate change and increasing rainfall in Norway. Over the past 10-15 years there has been a minor growth in installed capacity (1%) but this is now closer to zero. New projects are under development but are not large enough to influence this figure.

Future capacity concerns for the Norwegian electricity sector were highlighted by the situation this winter. Jørgensen explains that Norway experienced extreme weather and the whole electricity system was dangerously close to its capacity limit. The authorities had to prepare emergency plans to cut off heavy industry in order to avoid blackouts. Fortunately this didn’t happen but it was a close call – to within a few hundred megawatts. ‘The problem is,’ he says, ‘that with little new development, and with consumption increasing by several per cent each year, generating capacity in the Norwegian electricity system is stretched to the limit.’

Can uprating hydro power plants play a role in increasing capacity? ‘At the moment it does not make good economic sense,’ says Jørgensen. ‘The price of electricity in Denmark is rather high due to taxation but Norway can import cheap fuel from thermal power in Denmark if it is short of hydro. This governs the price of electricity and does not make uprating economically attractive at the present time. But if power prices rise, and they may well do soon, there will be a greater need for uprating in the next few years.’

International frontiers

Looking ahead, Norwegian company activity on a worldwide basis may also pick up. ICH has recently carried out a survey to monitor 14 Norwegian companies (consultants and manufacturers etc) and the volume of work they are under taking worldwide. ‘We found that by taking into consideration the number of projects and countries worked in, there was a 40-50% increase in activity levels compared with three years ago,’ says Jørgensen. ‘This was a surprise for us, although monetary values have actually reduced due to fewer turbine and generator installations. But this is interesting. A lot of pre-feasibility studies are going on, which means new projects are available for development and may mature internationally over the next few years.’

In the near future ICH is concentrating its efforts on the Hydropower ‘01 conference. This will be held in Bergen, Norway from 20-22 June 2001 and will precede the icold European Symposium on 25-27 June in Geiranger. Hydropower ‘01 aims to highlight issues of major importance to the hydro power sector.

‘The development of technology, the restructuring of the industry and the social and environmental demands require new thinking and an international exchange of knowledge and experience,’ says Olav Akselen, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy. He believes that both the ICH and ICOLD conferences will contribute to these processes. Topics to be covered at Hydropower ‘01 include:

  • New trends in the development of hydro power projects.

  • Recent trends in the operation of hydro power plants.

  • Hydro power as an environmentally sustainable form of generation.

  • Development of hydro power technology and design.

Over 90 papers will be presented by industry members from 32 countries. ‘Why should people attend?’ asks Jørgensen. ‘Because they will find the best expertise from Norway and the rest of the world.’

IWP&DC will be at Hydropower ‘01. We hope to meet you there.

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