Every real estate agent will say the best value is based on three things “location, location, and location.” Alternate energy should have, as its three-tier mantra for best value, “infrastructure, infrastructure, and infrastructure.”
And so begins this month’s column.
Norway is embarking on a new infrastructure. An underground and underwater highway system that is unparalleled, given its length and depth. Norway also is working on electric ships and becoming the hub of battery manufacturing to power them all with a focus on zero emissions. All are funded from a not so auspicious source.
The Vikings and a brief note on Norway
Nearly half of Norway’s land mass is within the Arctic circle. Ironically the country’s first settlers came to farm. Shipbuilding came much later and so did the Viking raids that ironically originated from England. Norway has six times the coastline than it has land borders. In another irony, its economy was largely supported by oil, which was discovered in 1969 and briefly was the largest single reservoir in the world. Norway has a population of less than 6 million and is quickly making moves to ensure that it will be carbon neutral by 2030.
In this series labeled “Progress Report,” I want to make it clear that I am not writing only about the amazing projects that various nations are working on but the mindset and cultural distinction of the particular country that values progress and the environment above purely economic gain or what I call “ease of access,” such as building a road through estuary because it’s easier rather than circumventing it to preserve nature. Or taking a national treasure such as a federal park and turning it into a coal mine for an energy company that was a political supporter.
Norway is modifying route E39 which connects it to Denmark and runs along the western seaboard up to the Arctic Circle. The current route is picturesque and rugged and in places, dangerous. Anyone who has ridden along “Highway 1” in California will have an idea as to how dangerous E39 can be if you are not careful.
The parliament of Norway is undertaking a major renovation of this route. The goal is to eliminate the ferries — all seven of them — and replace them with tunnels and bridges. It will give new meaning to the term “bridge and tunnel crowd.”
A study of the Norwegian coastal terrain even to the untrained observer demonstrates some acute engineering challenges, however. As I study this project it seems that there is not a definite plan as to how these bridges and tunnels will end up being constructed. The options can be better explained graphically if you go to “YouTube” and type www.vegvesen.no/Europaveg/e39romsdalsfjorden/in-english/video. I take the easy way out because 1) Why reinvent the wheel, 2) This is cutting edge technology and 3) since I have trouble drawing a straight line it’s much better the reader check out the graphics. This video can explain these marvels of engineering that includes “floating suspension bridges 4km (2.3 miles) long, suspended underseas tunnels 24km long and 1200 feet deep.”
So now that you have taken a peak at this engineering marvel you might ask what does this have to do with alternate energy? A good question indeed! As aforementioned, the key to good alternate energy systems are threefold: “infrastructure, infrastructure, and infrastructure.”
The big energy benefits will be reduced travel time by nearly 50% from 21 hours to 11 hours. Also there will be less travel time due to increased access yielding a greater thru-put in less time. More commerce and less maintenance, what a concept! The journey will be safer. When this project is complete it will serve as a model for future infrastructure that will lead to more energy savings and keep positive energy progress moving forward.
Battery-operated ships: Technology motivated by irony
Norway has some of the world’s largest gas and oil fields. In Europe they are second only to Russia in the production of petroleum products. The country is about the size of California, but it supplies 25% of the natural gas for Europe. It also is developing battery-operated ships.
So where is the irony? A large part of Norway’s economy is from its gas and oil. The need for oil and gas brings ships in and out of the fjords of Norway. This has brought also a marked increase in greenhouse gases. The oil and gas produced by Norway has created 10 times the greenhouse gases produced by Norway as a country.
Enter The Future — the future of The Future of the Fjords that is. The Future of the Fjords is the name of the passenger ferry currently in operation in Norway. Battery-operated craft of this type are what Norway and its host of high-tech startups are envisioning. The vision includes a more eco-friendly version for shipping obtained by designing more streamlined hulls, propellers, battery charging systems, and lightweight and energy dense batteries. Greenhouse gases produced by the ships that come and go by the beautiful and rugged landscape of Norway leave the highest concentration of sulfur dioxide in one area. Diesel fuel of ships is not as clean as the diesel fuel used for land vehicles. The acidity is affecting the countryside. The shipping industry, from which we all benefit, would rate No. 6 as a country in carbon emission. At present there are about 60 commercial electric ships of this capacity and Norway has built the majority of them. Norway has an ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.
Giga Battery Park and conclusion
On the horizon, just as this column goes to press, Norway is considering building the largest battery manufacturing facility in Europe with a vision of expansion across the Lapland or as it is known today, the “Nordic Hub.”
This ambitious project would be a combined effort of Finland, Sweden and Norway. The hub would combine the resources of Finland, the technology of Sweden and the abundant hydropower of Norway. Oh, I forgot to include another energy factor, Norway produces 96% of its electricity from hydro. I am looking forward to the new generation of batteries, ship building technology, and infrastructure for which Norway is blazing the trail.