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Where will the next big flood in Norway be? What if the Himalayan glaciers melt? Is building hydropower plants in Turkey profitable? These are some of the questions R&D programme manager Uta Gjertsen is trying to answer.

Knowledge about the snow depth up in the mountains is important in order to plan how we are going to utilise the meltwater that runs into the reservoirs.

Climate change will impact all of Statkraft’s business areas, not just hydropower, but also wind and biomass,” says Uta Gjertsen, head of the Consequences of Climate Change R&D programme launched 27 September 2013.

She points to the 2012 annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which concludes that it is in the interest of the energy sector to map how to meet the consequences of climate change. Just knowing that it will be “wetter and wilder” is not enough. We need accurate information on what to expect in the different regions in Norway, as well as the countries where Statkraft has interests or is considering making investments.

Knowledge transfer

“The programme will collect and coordinate the climate research in the entire Group, not just by gaining new knowledge, but also to gather and husband all the research leading up to the present,” says Gjertsen.

“There is plenty of research out there, not least within Nordic hydropower, and the idea is that we need to apply this expertise in countries where we are going to invest. We will carry out new projects aiming to increase Statkraft’s expertise and adaptability as it is still uncertain how climate change will impact renewables production. The results from the programme will be relevant as a basis for investment decisions and energy optimisation, as well as operations and maintenance.”

Managers from various departments in Statkraft are on the managing committee, and will establish support for joint decisions in their parts of the organisation.

Change is coming

A recent study funded by the Nordic Council, in which Statkraft participated, concludes there is little doubt that hydropower in the Nordic and Baltic regions will be significantly impacted by climate change.

“Norway has had stable climate for a long time, enabling us to use a long-term time data series in our planning, but we now see that the past no longer provides us with a good indication of what will happen in the future,” Gjertsen says.

Analyses carried out by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) show that climate change will have different consequences in different regions.

“Floods in Western Norway will be caused by rain, while inland floods will be caused by melting snow,” says Gjertsen. “We will probably have bigger floods in the west and less inland. We now need research that contributes to the development of good strategies for adjusting our infrastructure, our dams and so on.”

Demanding future

Statkraft’s goal is to grow internationally, but in the parts of the world without the same accurate measurements or meteorological and hydrological data as we have, it is even more difficult to predict the future.

“For instance, new global climate forecasts indicate drier climate in the Mediterranean region, and that plays into our assessment of the profitability of developing hydropower in areas that might have to use water for other means,” says Gjertsen. “It is even more difficult to predict the impact on wind power,” she adds, stressing that this must be taken into consideration at all times, even in countries where Statkraft already is established.

“This is all about making well-informed decisions because we know more about the profitability,” she says. Due to climate change, reservoirs may be the way to go, rather than investing in run-ofriver plants. Climate change will also impact maintenance and renovation of existing plants. Many were developed at a time when global warming was not an issue, and it is important to find out what has to be done to protect them from future climate developments.

“It is therefore important to work closely with the research communities that are developing good regional climate forecasts,” says Gjertsen. “Combine this with what we know about our own vulnerability in terms of climate changes, and we have the basis for decisions adapted to the expected future.”

Ice and snow

Nationally, Statkraft has a close and excellent partnership with the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. A recently completed joint project has resulted in improved methods for measuring snowfall, even when the wind is blowing hard.

“It is very important to know if there is more or less snow,” says Gjertsen. “Knowledge about the snow depth up in the mountains is important in order to plan how we are going to utilise the meltwater that runs into the reservoirs.”

Internationally, Statkraft and SN Power participate in research projects in India, headed by the Bergen-based Bjerknes Centre. The challenges in this area are enormous, with many and severe floods, changing monsoon patterns, and melting Himalayan glaciers.

Gjertsen will not be out of a job any time soon. She and the steering committee are planning new projects to meet Statkraft’s needs for updated knowledge. Among the new projects is a partnership with the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) to tailor new climate information, making Statkraft even better prepared for the exciting, renewable future ahead of us.

Text: Ellen Stai
Foto: Tommy Andresen, Dag Spant, Shutterstock
Also published in Statkraft's magazine People & Power no. 1/2014

Snow measuring