Hydropower has long been part of her life – ever since she visited her father at work in Nepal when she was a child. Decades later, she herself has become a hydropower engineer in Norway, with dams as her specialist field.
"Every single dam is unique!"
You could say the wheel has come full circle for Abha Dudhraj from Nepal. When Statkraft helped build hydropower schemes in Nepal, her father was a hydropower engineer, working with Statkraft on dam projects. Later, he took a PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, and brought his family to Norway with him. When the family left, Abha remained in Trondheim to study.
“The first year without my family was challenging, but I got through it thanks to the help of new and old friends,” says the 31-year-old.
Abha cannot help but feel impressed when she thinks back to those hydropower projects in Nepal.
“Nepal has a huge hydropower potential, but they have a long way to go. Khimti power plant was one of the first major hydropower schemes in Nepal, and Statkraft helped with both hydropower production and competence development,” she says.
For Abha, choosing hydropower was not a foregone conclusion.
“I didn’t really want to work with hydropower, precisely because that’s what my dad did,” says Abha with a wry smile.
A young Abha would have preferred to be something else, like a doctor or a civil engineer. She has always been practically inclined, she explains. Eventually, however, she took summer jobs at various power plants and saw the forces at play, what was required to build a dam, all that knowledge!
She just can’t stop talking about dams.
“They are beautiful and create vast mirrors of water. I think it’s amazing to see what water can do, and – not least – what is required to build a dam. Every single dam is unique, because you are building it to the conditions prevailing in just that spot. That’s exciting.”
“I knew early on what hydropower was, how dams worked. Not every little child knows that kind of thing!”
Old dams and modern dams
The very first dams and water reservoirs in Norway were built in connection with flour mills, sawmills and ironworks – long before it was possible to produce electricity. They were often built to facilitate log driving, the process of floating felled timber downstream using the river current.
These retaining dams were built of stone or wood. When hydropower schemes began to be built in the early 1900s, concrete constructions became more common.
“Stone dams are no longer built. On the whole, we have concrete and earth dams,” says Abha, before launching into a long and technical description of different types of dam. Abha is completely in her element.
There are over 4,000 dams in Norway, often built in connection with hydropower plants for the production of electricity. And unlike wind and solar power facilities, water can be stored and hydropower plants can be regulated to produce more or less power as required. The reservoirs are also used to protect against flooding. If necessary, they can be drained and regulated to make room for water from melting snow or heavy rainfall.
“Hydropower is important for Norway, and many dams have been constructed over the years. At Tofte, where I’m currently working, the dams are over 100 years old. These stone dams were built by hand, with horse and cart. It’s a fascinating thought.”
The local environment is important
The three dams on the Tofte river at Hurum in Asker Municipality in Viken County form a small part of a vast legacy which must be looked after and maintained. Abha’s task is to coordinate the work needed to give the old dams at Tofte a new lease of life. Three stone dams are being upgraded to meet today’s regulatory requirements.
With her puppy Nova tucked under her desk, Abha shows advanced 3D models of the new, reinforced construction.
“We will encase these stone dams in concrete on both sides to make them more robust and meet today’s stability requirements,” she says.
An important aspect of the refurbishment is to protect the local environment. The upgrading of the dams requires certain interventions in nature.
“That’s why we are concerned to preserve the environment and do what we can to bring nature back to the state it was in before the construction works took place, Abha points out.
“At Tofte, we have removed the topsoil and when the work is done, we will put it back so that it is as close as possible to how it was before. The objective is to restore nature to its original condition as quickly as possible. How fast nature grows back depends on altitude and vegetation. The higher the altitude, the longer it takes for nature to grow back.”
At Tofte, which is less than 200 m above sea level, it will grow back after one or two years. Eventually, the only change you’ll see is the dam itself.
Abha and her team have also built a coffer dam, which will protect fish stocks and biological life in the reservoir.
Silva Green Fuel's demonstration plant for the production of advanced biofuel was completed at Tofte in December 2021. The plant has been built to verify the technology before deciding on further commercial investment.
New tasks for old dams
The dams at Tofte have historically been used to provide cooling water for cellulose production. In 2013, the cellulose business was shut down after 120 years of operation, and the large factory at Tofte was demolished.
Today, the plan is to use the water as cooling in the production of biofuel at the old industrial site at Tofte, explains project manager Per Floberg in Silva Green Fuel.
The company, owned 51% by Statkraft and 49% by Södra, was established in 2015 to produce advanced biofuel that can reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector.
More about Silva Green Fuel (in Norwegian only)Opens in new tab or window
Silva Green Fuel at Tofte, Norway, uses residual raw material from the forestry industry and wood processing business to produce advanced biofuel that can replace fossil diesel and become an important part of the green shift.
A little dream...
The project manager for the upgrading of the Tofte dams says she loves her job.
“Constantly meeting new people has helped me develop as a person. At the same time, I get to sharpen my professional expertise because each dam project is unique and has its own special challenges,” Abha Dudhraj says.
“What’s important for me is that I’m helping to create a more sustainable society,” she says, before revealing her own dream project:
“It would be exciting to take part in the construction of a hydropower scheme in Nepal one fine day!”