Electrified Norway

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Ivar in Noorwegen

A petroleum museum? Well, there’s one in the Norwegian seaport of Stavanger, as we discovered. Funded by the state-owned oil company, the museum focuses on the prosperity that oil has brought to Norway, making it one of the richest countries in the world. Today one-third of all government revenue continues to be generated by oil, and the sector has created thousands of jobs.

A quarter of all new cars in Norway are electric. Ivar Smits Ivar Smits Skipper

But the museum doesn’t shy away from the darker side of “black gold”, presenting visitors with information on accidents, drilling in vulnerable areas and pollution. Before leaving the museum, guests are asked to make a choice: which do they think should be a priority – the environment or prosperity? We’re left wondering, though, if it’s really a question of one or the other.

Hydropower from hidden plants

We set out to investigate at Lysefjord, where spectacular waterfalls and rock faces at least 1,000 metres high on both sides of a narrow fjord make for a breathtaking panorama. In our sailing boat, we feel positively dwarfed by these magnificent surroundings. Except for a hamlet at the end of the fjord, thirty kilometres long, there’s just one place to moor: Flørli. Next to the quay is an industrial building, which was once a hydroelectric power station. It, too, has since been converted into a museum – one dedicated to hydropower.

We learn that 99 per cent of all the electricity consumed in Norway is generated by water, which makes Norway the world leader in this area. What’s odd, though, is that we haven’t seen that many power stations since we arrived, and this one isn’t even operational. So what’s up? “Many of the plants are built into the rock,” the director of the museum explains, “like the new plant which replaced this one.” In this way, the iconic fjords remain relatively untouched, yet enough green electricity is generated to provide virtually all Norwegians with electricity.

Making the best possible use of natural resources

After the Second World War, Norway started to build more and more hydroelectric power stations. Because of insufficient conservation legislation, however, dry riverbeds were sometimes the result. Now that tougher regulations have been introduced, natural waterways are preserved wherever possible. Special passages have been created to allow fish to reach spawning grounds. This production of renewable energy is well and truly green.

Since hydropower supplies a relatively constant flow of energy, how do Norwegians deal with fluctuations in demand? Meltwater from glaciers is collected in mountain lakes conveyed through tunnels to hydroelectric reservoirs. These reservoirs play a role in water management in the event of drought or impending floods by regulating the amount of water they free up for the power stations.

Accordingly, Norwegians have all the cheap, renewable electricity they need at any time of the day or night. This electricity is mainly used for heating and cooking, but also, increasingly, to power cars. Here, too, the country is a world record holder: a quarter of all newly purchased cars in Norway are electric. And it shows.

Electric cars here, there and everywhere

We’ve come to Bryggen (or the Dock), the tourist centre of the city of Bergen. As soon as we disembark, one electric car after another silently whizzes past. All the major car manufacturers market a hybrid or fully electric model here. But electric cars are popular not just because they’re easier on the environment – tax exemptions and discounts on toll roads also make them financially attractive. Not to mention that drivers of electric cars are free to use bus and HOV lanes and can take advantage of free parking. We’d like to experience all this for ourselves, so we set out to find an electric car of our own.

It turns out that’s not so easy. We can’t manage to hire an electric car, so we ask if we might test-drive one. After trying several dealers, we finally find one who agrees to let us take one out for a spin under supervision for an hour, but that won’t get us to our intended destination – Ampere, the world’s first electric car ferry. We decide to phone up Tesla’s customer service department. In no time at all, they’ve arranged for us to pick up a Tesla Model S for the weekend. So now it’s off to Sognefjord, where the Ampere travels back and forth all day long.

Noiselessly navigating the fjords

After a quick briefing on the car and how it works, we’re driving silently through the spectacular fjord landscape. We’re impressed by the powerful electric motor and the car’s beautiful finish. We can’t get over all the technical gadgets and features – for example, our car can stay between the white lines on the road all by itself, and we can listen to music on Spotify and look up all sorts of things online.

Accurate right down to the watt

The on-board computer shows us what our battery level should be once we arrive at our destination, and it’s amazing – we still have twenty kilometers to go, but the computer says the battery will be fuller than it is right now. Our confusion quickly turns to admiration when we see that the last stretch is a steep descent, which tops up the battery. As a result, the predicted charge is spot on by the time we arrive!

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