The glaciers’ inner energy

Ilustration of how to produce hyropower from glaciers.

Ilustration of how to produce hyropower from glaciers.

Did you know glaciers are a natural source of renewable energy? In Norway, several hydropower plants benefit from the glaciers’ water storage and seasonal water flow.

Norway is blessed by natural resources and a geography which enables to build environment-friendly hydropower stations.

Hydropower meets almost all of Norway’s energy needs. This is thanks to the work of the glaciers. Thousands of years ago the glaciers carved out today’s Norwegian landscape of wide u-shaped valleys and mountain plateaus scattered with lakes.

Glaciers today cover about 1 % of Norway’s land area while fresh water covers 5 %.

The energy of flowing water

Whether sourced from a glacial lake or any other mountain lake, the principle behind hydropower is simple: It uses the energy of flowing water.

A typical Norwegian hydropower project has a water reservoir located high up in a remote mountain area which often benefits from a glacier as second level storage facility.

The melting water is directed through tunnels into underground plants which have an outlet direct into a fjord or into a river system where several smaller power plants optimize the use of the water and allow keeping other rivers untouched.

By building long mountain tunnels and placing power stations inside mountain halls, modern hydroelectric plants in Norway are made to minimize environmental impact.

Up close picture of a piece of ice

Glaciers and climate change

Glaciers are sensitive to climate change and global warming may cause them to retreat. Still, while warmer temperatures may reduce high plateau ice caps, some coastal glaciers may actually grow as a result of more rainfall.

In the context of meeting the effects of climate change, hydropower with storage capacity will even be more useful. Water reservoirs will be important to mitigate floods and droughts while generating clean, renewable and affordable energy.

Close to 50 percent of the reservoir capacity in Europe is located in Norway.