Norwegian hydropower may play a critical role in any integrated North Sea electricity grid that is built to support northern Europe's emerging 'wind belt'.
Norway's hydropower sector could have the potential to provide both baseload generation and energy storage, according to the country's government and Norwegian utility firm, Statkraft.
The option of incorporating Norwegian hydropower within an interconnected North Sea grid - as part of efforts to optimise the robustness of northern Europe's burgeoning offshore wind sector - was discussed at a meeting on March 31 in Berlin, organised by the British and Norwegian embassies.
More than 100 representatives from national governments, energy companies, business associations and think tanks came together to explore how proposals for an integrated North Sea electricity grid might be progressed.
"Consultations have begun between German and Norwegian companies and the first concessions granted by German authorities for two sub-sea links between Germany and Norway," explains Thomas Bruusgaard Hogseth, of the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin.
"Germany is interested in a robust connection so that it can utilise hydro magazines when there is no wind in Germany, and so balance the electricity system. This is even more important now that there are new questions in Germany about nuclear power for baseload generation," says Hogseth.
A link between Norwegian hydropower and Germany's electricity grid could also act as a balancing mechanism, storing excess German wind and solar electricity.
However, questions were raised in Berlin about the challenges associated with scaling up Norway's electricity assets and about whether a link with continental Europe would make power in Norway more expensive.
Lars Audun Forstad, of Norwegian utility Statkraft, told the Berlin meeting that the emerging northern European "wind belt" brought with it a need for long-term back-up capacity.
"We estimate that, in the case of Germany, this could, by 2030, be 35GW in two to six hours" said Forstad. "In terms of production, this could be partly met by reservoir-based hydro, and in terms of storage, by pumped storage."
Norway's hydro structure, built in caverns inside mountains and with upper reservoirs connected to a power station by tunnel, makes it especially well suited for expanding generation capacity and for the development of pumped storage, he explained.
Norway has installed hydro capacity of 28GW, with expansion potential of 8GW in the south of the country. It has pumped storage capacity of 1GW, with expansion potential of 15-20GW.
A North Sea electricity grid linked with Norway would come at a cost. The Berlin meeting heard details of a "socialised cost model" that would finance grid construction at an estimated cost of EUR2.27/MWh, resulting in an increase in the retail tariff of EUR0.23/kWh over 40 years for participating countries. The model foresees costs being recovered through the electricity retail tariff in participating countries, assuming an income of EUR2.8 billion per annum and total energy consumption of 1.2 million gigawatt hours per annum.