Norway

Norway’s leading the charge on a sustainable future

Why is Norway so far ahead of the rest when it comes to renewable energy? National Geographic delves into the power behind the world’s greenest nation.

06/10/2020 Copyrights & Photos: National Geographic Text: Matt Carroll Reading Time: 3 min

This content was created by and appears on nationalgeographic.com as part of the AUDI AG brand partnership with National Geographic.

 

The lay of the land

When it comes to global warming and climate change, it’s easy to assume we’re on a one-way street to apocalypse. While on the surface it may seem that we humans are still caught in a close relationship with fossil fuels, dig a little deeper and you’ll see that many of us are easing out of the carbon dependence we’ve found ourselves in ever since we industrialized.

Norway's abundance of flowing water makes it a leader in renewables, with over 95% of its energy produced from hydropower.

Norway's abundance of flowing water makes it a leader in renewables, with over 95% of its energy produced from hydropower.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Norway. For decades Norway has led the charge towards renewable energy. In fact, since the late 1800s, the Norwegians have harvested energy from the many rivers that cascade into its fjords. The nation now sources most of their electrical energy from water, and hydro-electric power stations dot the dramatic Norwegian landscape.

Norway’s drive towards a cleaner, greener, more symbiotic relationship with Mother Nature is accelerating – and diversifying. While currently around 97 per cent of Norway’s energy already comes from hydro-power – an enviable accomplishment in itself – the government is now ambitiously pushing its population to make that last three per cent a reality.

Take a road trip across this mountainous, rugged, wind-blown land (behind the wheel of an electric car, of course), and you'll see evidence of this shift dotted all over the map. From wind-farms clustered atop blustery mountains to solar panels soaking up rays on increasing numbers of homes and commercial properties, everywhere you look the force of nature is being harnessed in positive ways that help protect our planet.

Smart thinking, smarter technology

The key to making this work – for everyone – are developments in technology that are making the transition towards a greener future both easier and more cost-efficient. For example, the collection of solar energy was once regarded as gratuitous – especially in parts of the country that had a surplus of energy. Most homes in Norway are now equipped with smart meters allowing you to harvest solar energy, store it, and even sell it back to energy companies. This makes renewables a smart investment on several levels, and provides a strong incentive for people to get behind the technology.

First e-ferry in Norway.
Electric vehicles aren't just land-based; Norway launched its first e-ferry back in 2015 and 53 more are in production.

Businesses in Norway also see that the future is in renewables. In recent years an impressive number of start-ups and innovators have employed new technologies to help speed up Norway’s shift to renewables. Like Ocean Sun, for example – co-founded by ex oil-and-gas man Øyvind Christian Rohn – which is pioneering new solar farm technology that floats on the surface of the ocean. The development of new silicon solar modules has now made it possible to create thinner, more flexible solar panels that are capable of withstanding the swells and surges of the tempestuous North Sea. This brilliant technology opens up huge swathes of energy-producing space, which can be moored close to the coast without the need to exploit landmass. Better still, according to Rohn, this is a solution that transcends Norway’s borders: “We see solar becoming the long-term solution for the world, because it gives you abundant energy and costs have gone down rapidly.”


Just to be clear, Norway is far from squeaky clean when it comes to energy. Around half its total exports are still linked to oil and gas – particularly the latter – with over 9,000 km of pipelines connecting the country’s offshore gas fields and onshore terminals with energy-hungry nations across Europe. In the meantime, while grappling with this dichotomy the government is turning its attention to that other symptom of our petrochemical reliance: the car.

Most of Norway’s power comes from its rivers and fjords – it has done since the 1800s.
Most of Norway’s power comes from its rivers and fjords – it has done since the 1800s.

Breathing a little easier

As far back as the late-nineties, the Norwegian government set a target to get 50,000 electric vehicles on its roads by 2017 – something it managed to do more than two years earlier than expected. Indeed, such is the adoption rate of EV’s – aided in part by tax breaks which have made them more affordable for consumers – this number now stands at more than 200,000 pure electric plug-in vehicles, and adoption has seen a 40 per cent surge in the last year alone. As with energy production and consumption, here too the powers that be have set some pretty punchy goals: namely to have all newly registered cars be zero-emission – either electric or hydrogen-powered – in just six years’ time.

We may still be some years away from seeing this goal realized. But, out on the roads in Norway, it’s clear that EV’s are fast becoming the norm – with new launches like Audi’s e-tron available as a premium choice among the many models from various vehicle manufacturers now on offer to a nation that’s hungry for cleaner, smarter cars. There’s still a long way to go if we’re to achieve the paradigm shift necessary to safeguard our future on this planet. But Norway is proving to the rest of the world that when you combine smart thinking with even smarter technology – along with the will of government to make big changes –good things can happen. Fast.

Dr. Leslie Dewan

Dr. Leslie Dewan

Dr. Leslie Dewan is co-founder and chief executive officer of Transatomic Power, a nuclear reactor design company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is developing the next generation of sustainable nuclear power plants. She received her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT in 2013, with a research focus on computational nuclear materials. Before receiving her Ph.D., Dewan worked for a robotics company in Cambridge, where she designed search and rescue robots and equipment for in-field identification of chemical and nuclear weapons.

 

Dewan has been awarded an MIT Presidential Fellowship and a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. She is a member of the MIT Corporation, the governing body of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was named a Time magazine “30 People Under 30 Changing the World,” an MIT Technology Review “Innovator Under 35,” a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

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