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. Oil powered Norway gradually turns into the wind

by Staff Writers
Utsira, Norway (AFP) May 11, 2008
As Norway prepares for a future after oil, the gale-force potential of harvesting wind power off its long coastline has become an increasingly attractive proposition.

"Wind-mapping shows that ... Norway is among the (world's) most ideal locations for wind power, both on the coast and offshore," said Norwegian Deputy Petroleum and Energy Minister Liv Monica Stubholdt.

Yet the Scandinavian country, one of the world's leading oil and gas exporters, today lags far behind others in taking advantage of this natural resource.

Norway has 15 wind parks, producing a little less than one percent of its electricity, and environmentalists and industry players complain Oslo has done little to encourage what is considered one of the "greenest" energy sources.

"The government should dare to spend much more to promote wind than they do," Ane Brunvoll, a renewable energy expert with Norwegian environmental group Bellona, told AFP.

There are signs of change, however, as concerns over falling oil reserves and global warming become more prominent, with some 150 new installations either authorised or are awaiting permits.

Companies too are racing to develop new technology making it possible to place monster wind turbines out at sea where winds are stronger and there are few people to complain about noise levels and obstructed views.

"The government's ambition is to become a net exporter of renewables and that cannot happen if we do not develop" strong wind-powered sources, Deputy Minister Stubholdt said, adding the government was exploring whether wind production "blocks" could be licensed off in much the same way as North Sea oil blocs are today.

On the tiny, gusty island of Utsira, off Norway's southwestern coast, Mayor Jarle Nilsen says he is well aware of the powerful potential for wind power.

The island, measuring just six square kilometres and counting only 210 inhabitants, has become a virtual laboratory for innovative wind power technologies.

"We have wonderful wind conditions here, with a constant and very even breeze that allows for very high wind power output," he explained on an ironically calm day.

The island's two wind turbines, towering 40 metres (130 feet) in the air on a small hill overlooking several red-painted wooden houses, produce more energy than the small community can use.

The windmills, which are less than half the size of the largest models, are also part of the world's first full-scale system for converting wind power into hydrogen.

The hydrogen, created when the oxygen and hydrogen atoms that make up water are separated through electrolysis, is stored in a fuel cell that starts sending energy to 10 Utsira households participating in the trial as soon as the windmill's blades come to a standstill.

"This system allows us to deliver power with expected quality and reliability (and) the only emission is oxygen," said Halgeir Oeya, who heads up the hydrogen technology unit at Norwegian energy giant StatoilHydro, which is running the test project.

But the energy produced here remains very costly and it will take "a number of years" before the technology can be scaled up enough to actually make money, Oeya acknowledged.

Holding more financial promise are perhaps two deepwater floating wind turbine demonstration projects to be built near Utsira over the next two years using technology similar to that of floating oil and gas platforms.

"Offshore makes sense in a way. It is our area of competence," said Jan Fredrik Stadaas, the head of project development at StatoilHydro's New Energy Wind division, which is behind one of the demo projects.

The same sized wind turbine can produce double the amount of power out at sea as on land, he said, adding that the need for more robust technology to withstand maritime weather conditions however drove up costs.

StatoilHydro, which one day hopes to build a park of giant turbines capable of floating in depths of up to 170 metres and each capable of providing power for 1,000 homes, says such deepwater wind farms are still years off.

Both the industry and environmentalists say Norway's government should do more to help get the new projects up and running.

"This is a very capital intensive industry ... You need price and incentive schemes to make it profitable," Stadaas said.

Bellona's Brunvoll meanwhile described the government's investments so far as "farcical," pointing out that Norway, with its 2,500 kilometre-long coastline, held the theoretical potential to generate 14,000 terawatt hours (TWH) of wind energy a year.

"Of course, we don't want to fill our entire coast with wind turbines but even a fraction of that would be good," she said.

In comparison, Norway, the world's fifth largest oil and third largest gas exporter, only produces some 2,300 TWH annually from its petroleum industry, she said.

A major reason for the slow uptake is Norway's virtually unlimited access to renewable hydro power, which today covers about 99 percent of its domestic energy consumption, Deputy Minister Stubholdt explained.

"That may have served to inadvertently slow us down on other renewables," she said, but added: "We are working to improve incentives ... We want wind to be a much larger part of the energy supply."

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Analysis: U.S. wind market's mixed signals
Hanover, Germany (UPI) May 6, 2008
The wind energy industry is beginning to repower existing turbines for greater efficiency and expanding to offshore locations in Europe, and despite unstable incentives for wind power in the United States, strong growth potential and the weak dollar are buoying interest in the U.S. market.

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