Norway’s leading the charge on a sustainable electric 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.

Dr Leslie Dewan meets an expert in sustainable power in cold temperatures, and visits the Sami people, who use technology to keep their reindeer safe.
Mr. White

Norway’s leading the charge on a sustainable electric 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.

Dr Leslie Dewan meets an expert in sustainable power in cold temperatures, and visits the Sami people, who use technology to keep their reindeer safe.
Mr. White

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

View Images
The Norwegian government incentivises renewables for the public wherever it can; smart meters let homeowners store excess solar power and sell it back to energy companies.

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.

View Images
Wind, solar, water. Everywhere you look, nature’s power is harnessed in innovative new ways.

Further information on official fuel consumption figures and the official specific CO2 emissions of new passenger cars can be found in the EU guide "Information on the fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and energy consumption of new cars," which is available free of charge at all sales dealerships, from DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Strasse 1, D-73760 Ostfildern, Germany and at www.dat.de.

This content is brought to you by our partner. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic or its editorial staff.