Norwegian fjords as virtual storage

Two power cables already connect Norway with Germany and the Netherlands respectively. From 2030, sustainable hydrogen will also flow through a pipeline to Germany.


Since the new Nordlink submarine cable went into regular operation in April 2021, the electro-partnership between Germany and Norway has become even closer. When there is a lull on the North Sea coast and the wind turbines are at a standstill, Norway's hydropower plants step into the breach. However, if Germany produces too much wind power, it is to flow to Norway via the approximately 520-kilometre-long line with a maximum output of 1.4 gigawatts so that the hydroelectric power plants there can be shut down at short notice. The fjords in the north will thus serve as ‘virtual storage facilities’.

The 580 kilometre NorNed power cable (700 megawatts of capacity) between Norway and the Netherlands has also served to link electricity markets and thus reduce electricity costs since 2008. Energy from Norwegian hydropower can be used to cover peak loads in the Netherlands. Conversely, Dutch electricity flows to Norway at night when less hydropower is produced there. However, the fate of the third planned electricity highway to the north is currently uncertain: The approximately 600-kilometre NorGer cable was supposed to transport a maximum of 1.4 gigawatts between Germany and Norway as early as 2015. In the meantime, the project has become quiet and there is currently no sign of construction starting. 

The idea of ‘Europe's battery’ is slowly reaching its limits. People are increasingly asking themselves ‘How can we be climate-neutral in the future?

Marcus Franken

One possible reason for this is that the Norwegian fjords simply cannot be used as buffer storage at will, because the growing local demand for electricity sets limits. ‘The idea of “Europe's battery” is slowly reaching its limits,’ says Marcus Franken, head of the German branch of the Norwegian consulting company Thema. This is because the close connection of the grids means that German electricity price peaks are increasingly impacting on Norwegian tariffs. This has led to resentment among the population and forced the government to introduce an electricity price cap. All of this is leading to a rethink in the supposed electricity paradise. ‘People are increasingly asking themselves the question ’How can we be climate-neutral in the future?' says Franken. They no longer want to rely solely on hydropower, but also promote alternatives such as wind power and improve energy efficiency, for example in the building sector.

The country is also already working on the next export hit after hydropower: hydrogen. It is currently still being produced from natural gas in the resource-rich country, but in future it is to be produced using renewable energy (‘green hydrogen’). ‘Norway is keeping a close eye on what German politicians are planning in terms of hydrogen,’ says Franken. In January last year, Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck travelled to Oslo to announce an energy partnership with Norway: a pipeline is to connect the two countries in 2030 and first supply ‘blue’ hydrogen from natural gas and then green hydrogen from renewable energies. This would make the energy partnership with Norway even closer.


Text Constantin Gillies | Photography THEMA/Franken


This article is part of the english issue 1.2024 published on 8 May.

Published in issue 1.2024

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