The History of Norwegian Hydropower in 5 Minutes

Modern Norway was built and industrialised when we started to utilize rivers and waterfalls to produce electricity. Hydropower is still the backbone of the Norwegian power system, and will remain so in the foreseeable future.

Abundant access to clean and renewable energy puts Norway in a unique position compared to most other countries in the world. Pioneers in both the business sector as well as politics saw the potential in using hydroelectric power for industrial purposes. One pioneer industrialist was Sam Eyde, who secured the rights to build power plants in Telemark County in the late 19th century. The goal was to convert the enormous forces in the water to cheap electricity for industrial production. This paved the way for the establishment of prominent Norwegian companies such as Norsk Hydro and Elkem. On the political side, the former Prime Minister Gunnar Knutsen sent a famous letter to the parliament in 1892, laying out the industrial potential of hydroelectric power. By doing so, he initiated an important and long-term political effort to secure a role for the Norwegian state in the ongoing electrification of the country, and ensure that the hydropower resources would benefit the nation as a whole. 

The Norwegian Parliament, The Storting, responded quickly by issuing laws for concessions and reversionary rights. The latter was passed into law in 1909, and involves that the ownership of the resources passes back to the state when the period of the concession is ended. Thus, The Storting ensured that the Norwegian hydropower resources was to remain on Norwegian hands

The state, counties and municipalities today own 90 percent of the production capacity for electricity. The very first hydropower plant owned by a municipality came into production in 1891 in the northern town of Hammerfest. Hammerfest, located way north of the Arctic Circle, became the first town in Norway with electric street lighting. Oslo followed shortly afterwards, with electric street lighting and electric public rail transportation in the decade following 1890. In 1900, Hammeren power station in Maridalen outside Oslo was built to produce electricity to the city. This is the oldest operating power plant in Norway today. At the opening of Hammeren, it was declared that Oslo was "secured power forever". Today, the annual production from Hammeren would cover the electricity consumption in Oslo for less than a day and a night. This serves as a reminder of how the importance and dependency of electricity has increased throughout the 20th century, and still is to this day.

New power plants became architectonical symbols of progress and modernity in Norway. In 1911, the Vemork power plant near Rjukan came into production. At the time, Vemork was the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. The proximity to the hydropower resources was also important for the establishment of energy-intensive industry in places such as Odda and Glomfjord on the western coast of Norway. While the industrial revolution other places in the world was powered mainly by coal and oil, Norway could make use of clean and renewable energy in its industrial development.

In many ways, the utilisation of our hydropower resources became the gateway to modern, industrialised Norway. But it also represents continuity into the future. More than 100 years after the first hydroelectric power plant was built in Norway, nearly all our electricity production is based on hydropower. Along with oil and gas technology, Norwegian hydropower technology is in the forefront globally. Norwegian companies today exports such technology to a number of countries. They also contribute with development of expertise in countries with hydropower resources.

Norway is today Europe's biggest producer of hydropower, and number six in the world. Our hydropower resources have given us industrial development, wealth creation, light and heating for more than a hundred years. With the right resource management, we are laying the groundwork so that these resources can benefit future generations.