Minister: Norway’s renewable goals ‘driven by wind’

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This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.

As the EU embarks on ambitious plans to boost its share of renewable energy, Norway seeks to diversify its offering and swamp EU consumers with green electricity produced from large-scale offshore wind farms, Liv Monica Stubholt, state secretary for energy, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Ms. Stubholt is state secretary at the Norwegian ministry of petroleum and energy.

To read an article that draws upon this interview, please click here .

Norway already has a large share of clean energy, with 60% of its overall mix covered by renewable sources, such as hydro. How is Norway affected by the EU's own renewable energy targets?

Norway and the European Union work very closely together on climate policy issues. In the international climate negotiations, Norway and the EU are some of the very few who have committed to the limit of two degrees Celsius as the ideal outcome.  

Therefore, I am convinced that in terms of realising such ambitious targets, we will fall out on the same side (out of any kind of international discussion) in favour of ambitious objectives.

Norway will then be directly impacted by the development in the European Union by way of the European Economic Area agreement, by virtue of which we are de facto integrated into the internal market.

Does this mean Norway will have to implement the EU's new renewables directive?

The European Economic Area Agreement structure is such that as soon as the European Union has adopted legislation in the area of the internal market, EEA countries are obliged to make an assessment. This usually takes very little time but for formal reasons, it will happen as soon as the formal decisions have been adopted. 

We did implement the previous directive in 2005, and Norway is of course in a dialogue with the European Union on how to read and understand the political agreements that were reached before Christmas.

Could that translate into Norway having to raise its own renewables share even further?

Norway's own ambitions would require that. So that would not be a consequence of the European Union Association Agreement.

What are those ambitions?

We have a very short-term target for the increase of three terawatt hours (TW/h) in renewables by 2010. Then, by 2030, we have an even higher target in terms of increase.

So our targets are not put at the percentage of going up from the 60% – although that will be the effect – but our targets are set with the increase in terms of volume of energy efficiencies and in terms of renewables. 

So I am convinced that our policies will lead to an increase. But I think it is unfair to discount the fact that hydropower which emits zero carbon dioxide should be set aside as irrelevant. Of course, it is not. It is highly relevant, not only because it does not emit carbon dioxide, but also because it has this balancing power capacity which we discussed today, allowing us to stabilise the power supply from renewable energy sources that provide intermittent power like wind, but also wave and tidal power.  

Almost 99% of Norway's electricity comes from renewable sources, with the overall share in the energy mix already as high as 60%. How can this share possibly be raised even further? What are the options that Norway is looking at to increase that level?

The options are primarily driven by wind. You should know that in terms of the geographical mapping that has been done, which even though incomplete shows that Norway ranks second only to Portugal in terms of wind resources. 

But these wind resources are primarily off-shore. So we are convinced that we will be increasing our renewables share, but it will be the result of R&D and technology developments, and especially with floating off-shore wind installations, because the Norwegian continental shelf is fairly narrow and does not allow shallow water-anchored off-shore wind in any huge volume.  

But we know that current electricity production in Norway is extremely clean already. So this extra capacity that you are planning to build – is it only for export, or is it for use in other sectors that continue to use fossil fuels, like the transport sector?

Well, it is hard to translate wind power into fuel for vehicles, but the one big issue would be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the production of petroleum products, because today, we have considerable carbon dioxide emissions from the protection facilities of oil and gas. They account for approximately one third of the total carbon dioxide emissions of Norway.

Granted, those emissions are also one third of the international average carbon dioxide emissions per barrel, which tells us that the carbon dioxide emissions from energy production in the petroleum industry has been reduced substantially, not least because Norway was the very first country to introduce a carbon dioxide fee or excise duty. 

But I believe that off-shore wind will meet a demand on the Norwegian continental shelf from the petroleum production, but it will also be a considerable potential for export, not the least because the most relevant areas of the Norwegian continental shelf are very close to the borders of the UK and Denmark.  

How much renewable electricity is Norway currently exporting, and how much do you want the figure to be in the future?

We have been a net exporter of electricity over the last few years. Not a very large number, one or two terawatt hours (TW/h), I believe, is the right figure. But, if you look at the average over the last twenty years, you will find that it balances out fairly evenly, because as we base our electricity on hydro power, in dry years with little precipitation, we need to import to cover domestic needs. So you will have years where we are net importers from the Swedish and Danish exporters of electricity. 

We have not set a target for exportation of renewables, but we have defined increased export of renewables as a desired political objective. We may set such targets later on, but the main point must be to work hard on renewables, not only hydro power but also wind, and then to make sure that we are a contributor to a joint effort in the European context.

Norwegian energy companies have great hopes of selling more of their green electricity to Europe. How does the Norwegian government plan to support them in their efforts?

The first and foresmost responsibility for governments is to create a regulatory regime that promotes the development of industries, also in renewables, and we will table legislation for offshore wind within six months. Thereafter, to have strong consultation with members of the industry and reopresenatives of the EU institutions and the member states to identify what needs to be done. 

And the second issue, which remains to be resolved, is the need for infrastructure for the transporation of renewable energy. We have identified potential routes but this is not decided on the basis of national domestic decisions alone: they demand, at a minimum, international coordination if not European, Community-level legislation.

Are you already collaborating with the EU institutions on this issue?

We have a very strong bilateral energy dialogue with the European Union. Indeed, we will be meeting with the EU energy commissioner and the Norwegian minister for petroleum and energy in the first week of February. This will be on the agenda, and at official level, there have been discussions on the 'supergrid' for a long time. 

So this is an issue which we think benefits from in-depth factual discussions rather than top-level level of understanding, which is not necessary in the close proximity of relations between Norway and the European Union.

Do you already know when such a grid connection could be made?

It is too early to say, because we don't know whether it should be on the regional level initially. We don't really know what countries will be actively involved, and we also need to look at how we resolve the financing issue. And in many ways, this could turn out to be a stumbling block if we don't find ways of ensuring that the initial investments may be collected further down the road. I am convinced that this is possible, but it does take considerable creative thinking both from politicians and industry to be able to find that solution.

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